The Cowboys front office likes to act like Ezekiel Elliott will return anytime, but the coaching staff is actively preparing for a reality without their star.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones has acted cool, calm and collected all throughout Ezekiel Elliott’s extended holdout. The front office in Dallas has always put on a brave face that their star running back would be on the field Week 1. But with 10 days to go, the team’s coaching staff is being forced to deal with a very different reality.
Jason Garrett doesn’t have the luxury of optimism. He’s in the process of getting his team ready to play the Giants when they descend on Dallas on Sept. 8. Part of that process requires identifying the running back who will lead the team’s rushing attack against the Giants. Elliott’s absence throws that competition wide open.
At the moment, Darius Jackson is listed first on the team’s depth chart. No one around the team actually believes he’s going to handle the lion’s share of the workload when the regular season begins. He’s a reliable veteran option, but nothing about his career suggests that he’s ready to be starter on a team with legitimate playoff aspirations.
Instead, the expectation is that rookie Tony Pollard is going to emerge as the team’s feature running back when Week 1 kicks off. He’s been a very intriguing player during the team’s three preseason games to date. The former Memphis Tiger star has carried the ball 15 times for 84 yards and one touchdown during limited action. It’s safe to say the Cowboys coaching staff would be thrilled if he can maintain that efficiency during the regular season.
That might seem like an audacious goal for a rookie who came into the NFL with a relatively modest reputation, but the Cowboys offense is set up perfectly to help the talented, but unheralded running back succeed.
The obvious thing working in Pollard’s favor is the quality of the offensive line he’ll be running behind. This group suffered some serious injuries last year, but the group boasts Pro Bowl caliber options at every position. If center Travis Frederick comes back anywhere near the player he was before missing the 2018 season then Dallas will likely have the best offensive line in football.
The growth of the team’s passing game with Dak Prescott at the controls also should keep opposing defenses off-balance. A full season of Amari Cooper made the attack much more potent down the stretch last season. Cowboys officials hope that Kellen Moore’s installation as the team’s new offensive coordinator will make the attack much more unpredictable this season. If all of that works as planned, Dallas running backs will enjoy significantly more room to operate in this year.
None of this should suggest that Elliott’s absence won’t hurt the Cowboys. He’s arguably the best running back in the NFL. His talent doesn’t help Garrett and his coaching staff though. They can only worry about the players who will play for them when Week 1 arrives. For the moment, that means they are crafting a plan to attack the Giants that does not include Ezekiel Elliott.