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Cowboys Camp Preview: Running Back

Running back is always a position that watch closely through the , with down players building a following in the . This has remained the standard even with a three-down back in Ezekiel Elliott, who one anonymous AFC executive is still convinced makes the QB he is.

Elliott failed to break 1,000 yards for the second time in his  Cowboys career in 2020, playing without Prescott and behind patchwork offensive lines. Much has been made of how the return of and La’el Collins will help Prescott, but not so much the two-time rushing champion in Elliott.

The Cowboys running backs will be coached by Skip Peete in his second stint on the Dallas .

Cowboys Camp Preview: Running Back 1

Getting to Know Skip Peete

Peete made the jump from college coaching to the NFL in 1996 going from RB coach at UCLA to the same position with the Raiders. In 2007 he took this position with the Cowboys, and was most recently with the Rams before rejoining the Cowboys. Peete was the coach for ’s first (and only) season with the Cowboys in 2007, and most recently a resurgence from in Los Angeles. Both Barber and Gurley are similar physical runners, an element to Elliott’s game that could suit him well as he adjusts to relying less on breakaway speed.

Returning Players at Running Back

The Cowboys duo of Elliott and Tony Pollard is back for 2021, surrounded by a star cast of WRs to make for a dynamic . Recent workout videos of Elliott have put the league on notice as he looks to become a big play threat once again.

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Leading the league in explosive rushing plays in Elliott’s year, the Cowboys were 23rd in explosive run rate last year given their . Elliott’s three rushes of 20+ yards in 2020 was eclipsed by Pollard in breakout games against the Steelers and 49ers. The two games where Pollard was given the most attempts, vs. the 49ers and at the Bengals, were both Cowboys wins with the former being a 41-33 shootout and the latter a 30-7 laugher.

The best way for the Cowboys to keep Pollard involved would be utilizing him in the , but getting your number called from with , , and at his disposal is a tough task. Elliott’s skills as a receiver are also something have been clamoring for since the day he was drafted in 2016.

Tony Pollard Shines in Starting Role vs 49ers

The Cowboys gave Pollard 23.5% of their rushing attempts to Elliott’s 244/430 attempts in 2020. With no major shakeups on the offensive staff, and Peete’s familiarity with the team, expect the workload to remain similar if not increase for Elliott should the Cowboys be playing from ahead more.

The team also returns and to the backfield. Dowdle carried the ball three times in a blowout loss to the Cardinals on  and four times against the 49ers, showing enough to warrant entering his second as RB3.

Olonilua spent the season primarily on the Cowboys but was on the active roster against the Steelers and 49ers. He is expected to compete at FB as well as RB, though his best path to making the roster is at with only UDFA Nick Ralston to compete with.

New Players at Running Back

UDFA is a longshot out of Division II Tiffin, putting the NFL on notice in 2019 when he ran for 1.554 yards and 15 touchdowns. A smaller build at 5’8″, Hardy’s running style is that of a bigger back as he doesn’t shy away from contact.

The same can be said about fellow UDFA Brenden Knox, a power runner out of Marshall. The Thundering Herd’s rushing offense ranked ahead of Alabama, Texas, and Florida State in rush yards per game last season, with Knox contributing 887 yards on 185 carries. This came on the heels of a 1,387 yard season in 2019.

Better or Worse? Cowboys Running Backs

From Staff Writer Jess Haynie’s series on whether or not the Cowboys improved or downgraded across the for 2021:

Overall, it’s hard to say this RB/FB group will really be any different than a year ago. They may wind up looking much better thanks to around them, but the talent level is roughly the same.

That said, a third-year pop from Tony Pollard is definitely on the table. So is further development from Dowdle and perhaps the reemergence of a contributing fullback.

At the very least, you can’t say the group is any worse off than a year ago.

The role the Cowboys running backs will play in 2021 will be determined widely by how many points they can put up through the air. This team is built to score early and often, and play with a lead in all facets of the game. Should they do so, I agree with Jess completely that their RB stable is an upgrade given their ability to feature both Elliott and Pollard while further developing Dowdle.

Tell us what you think about “Cowboys Camp : Running Back” in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Sean Martin

Written by Sean Martin

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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One Comment

  1. Zeke and Pollard should not see more than 1 series each in the entire preseason. Dowdle and the UDFAs should each be given reps behind the starting OL to get a clear picture of which one should be RB3 or deserve a spot on the PS.

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