Ezekiel Elliott has been working vigorously during the offseason to bounce back from the first down year of his career with the Cowboys in 2020. With the help of running backs guru Josh Hicks, Elliott has focused on getting his quickness and agility where it needs to be while also getting down to his lowest weight since his Ohio State days.
It’s been encouraging to see the two-time rushing champ put in the necessary grind to get back to the level everyone has become accustomed to seeing him play. However, after five seasons of being the Cowboys bell-cow runner, head coach Mike McCarthy has a plan to maximize what the team will get out of Elliott, which will include using other backs to lighten his workload.
“When you look at a player like Zeke, because of the volume of what he has done early in his career, you’ve got to be cognizant of the long road,” McCarthy said Thursday. “We’ve got Tony Pollard, some young backs. It’s not necessary for Zeke to run the ball 25 to 30 times a game. The most important thing is when you get into December and January, you want him to be in top form and be able to run the ball 25 to 30 times.”
Elliott is only 26 years old and has plenty of football left ahead of him. With that being said, he also has 71 games and 1,423 carries on his resume which is quite a bit of wear and tear on his legs. Luckily for the Cowboys, they have an explosive second option in Pollard. Although he’ll never bring to the table what Elliott does as an all-around running back, Pollard is a great change of pace option and is always a threat to take any play to the endzone with his speed.
With the focus being geared towards keeping Elliott fresh for when games matter the most, McCarthy sees more two-back looks for the Cowboys in 2021.
“We need to do a little more of it,” McCarthy said. “We need to line up and run the ball when we want to run the ball no matter what [the defense] is in, too. We need to have some more of that. We don’t want to be where we’re checking it all the time and just playing exclusively a one-back offense.”
It makes sense for the Cowboys to use more 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end) when they have Elliott and Pollard at their disposal. Not only will it take some of the load off of Elliott in terms of his carries but the Cowboys could line Pollard up in the slot and use him as a receiver. During his days at Memphis, Pollard caught 104 passes for 1,292 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Cowboys experimented with that very concept last week at training camp practice in Oxnard. In the video below, Pollard is split out wide, goes in motion, and Dak Prescott finds Elliott down the seam for a touchdown. Not many teams have this kind of option with two playmakers at the running back position and the possibilities are endless on how the Cowboys could come up with ways to have Elliott and Pollard on the field simultaneously.
— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) July 24, 2021
It will be interesting to see what McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore come up with to implement this strategy.