Perhaps some good news is on the way for the Dallas Cowboys when it comes to their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, with yesterday’s news that the NFL’s investigation of him has concluded. This did not stop the Cowboys from preparing for a possible Elliott suspension to start the 2017 season by working out two experienced running backs prior to departing for Oxnard, California and training camp.
Of course, Elliott will be eligible to practice with the team through camp, which means we are not far off at all from Cowboys Nation being able to at least partially distract themselves from any off-field issues by watching Zeke do his thing as 2016’s league rushing champion.
With five preseason games and a foreseen even larger role for Elliott out of the backfield this season though, adding bodies to take reps at RB is a good all around idea for the Dallas Cowboys right now. Should Ezekiel miss any time, it is likely that Darren McFadden will get the first crack at the starting job – making his training camp workload something to monitor closely on the heel of these moves as well.
The more distinguished back that Dallas gave a look this week is Ronnie Hillman, a five-year pro that began with the Denver Broncos as their third round pick of 2012. Never truly finding his footing in a crowded Denver backfield, Hillman’s best season came two years ago with 207 carries for 863 yards and seven scores in 2015.
Ronnie Hillman warranted a look from the Vikings following Adrian Peterson’s injury this season, signed by Minnesota only to appear in five games and carry the ball 18 times. He then bounced to the Chargers for three games.
Source: in addition to Denard Robinson, the Cowboys worked out RB Ronnie Hillman on Thursday.
One could certainly make the argument that Hillman is well-rested in his approach to return for 2017, but the 25-year-old back has not generated much interest outside of the Cowboys looking to now either resurrect his career (as they did with Darren McFadden) or cover themselves the best they can in the case of an Elliott suspension.
The flashier of the two offensive weapons the Cowboys brought in is a player that was once literally listed by his Jacksonville Jaguars as just that – offensive weapon Denard Robinson. A dynamic rushing QB in his college career at Michigan, Robinson settled in with the Jaguars in 2013, being drafted in the fifth round.
A year later, Robinson had a brief moment in the NFL spotlight by ripping off 582 yards on 135 carries over 13 games. He scored on a 32 yard run against the Cowboys in London.
As is the case with Hillman however, Robinson’s best days as a productive back seem to be behind him. Appearing in 12 games in 2016, Robinson carried the ball just 37 times for 127 yards and added a measly three receptions.
The Cowboys did let Lance Dunbar leave this offseason in free agency, no longer needing his seldom available services as the offense’s “change of pace’ or receiving back. If the team was committed to keeping a player with Dunbar’s role on the roster they would have addressed RB in the draft and likely never select WR Ryan Switzer who can comfortably make plays out of the backfield as a HS running back.
Instead, the looks that both Denard Robinson and Ronnie Hillman were given by the Cowboys are hard to justify the timing of if not for information that is on the horizon regarding their bell cow Ezekiel Elliott.
Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris should remain the Cowboys’ primary backup running backs, meaning we’ll see plenty of them in practice starting on Monday, but the depth behind these two could be changing thanks to some unfortunate circumstances.
Who will be this year’s “pet cat” running back that absolutely earns a roster spot with some flash plays over the preseason?
Harmlessly, this player was likely going to be UDFA Jahad Thomas by default, as the opportunity for him to come back from injuries that limited him in OTAs and make an impact will be there.
Now, the 2017 answer to this annual question could be a pretty well-known commodity. Inside The Star will keep you updated with the Cowboys’ roster moves should Robinson or Hillman join America’s Team.