With the contract and hold out saga with Ezekiel Elliott continuing, rookie Running Back Tony Pollard got the start on Saturday as the Dallas Cowboys faced off against the San Francisco 49ers in week one of the preseason. There were few players that Cowboys Nation was as excited to see in action than Pollard and in his preseason debut, he had a very solid effort totaling 16 yards on four carries and picked up a first down on the ground.
On his four carries, Pollard gained 11 yards after contact, averaging 2.75 yards after contact per carry. Obviously, four carries is a limited sample size, but he should feel really good about the work that he put in. He ran with patience, vision, initiated contact and made good decisions.
Let’s take a look at his day.
On the first play from scrimmage for the Dallas Cowboys, to the surprise of no one, they decided to run the ball. Though we may be tired of seeing first down runs, it was probably a wise decision to get their rookie playmaker involved early to shake off any nerves that he might have brought to his first professional football game.
With the Dallas Cowboys in 11-personnel with the tight end and slot wide receiver to the left side, the call goes to the weakside. The 49ers’ left defensive end seals the edge quickly and Tony Pollard has to cut back against the grain, but his vision and patience allow him to get find a nice hole left of Center Travis Frederick. Tyron Smith crashes inside and is able to seal off the 49ers 3-technique defensive tackle as Connor Williams and Zack Martin get to the linebackers at the second level. After the initial cut, back, Pollard finds his crease and makes a quick move into the hole to pick up six yards on his first carry.
After the initial contact, he’s able to drive the defender for at least a yard, which is an encouraging sign with questions about his size to play the running back position.
On Pollard’s second carry, the Cowboys are in 12 personnel with two tight ends to the right and a tight stack of the wide receivers to the left. The 49ers initially stymie the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, but after a brief moment, the Cowboys are able to get some push against their counterparts. Pollard doesn’t see anything right away but is clean in the backfield and is able to use patience to wait for something to open up.
It’s not a great run, as it picks up only three yards, but it’s solid and leaves the Cowboys with a manageable 2nd and 7.
3rd and 2 with the Dallas Cowboys in shotgun and a balanced 11-personnel look with the tight end to the right side. On the snap, Dak Prescott gives the ball to Tony Pollard but shows a read-option look. As he fakes the quarterback run, Prescott causes the blitzing safety to hesitate in his pursuit of Tony Pollard, which allows Pollard to get upfield quickly and avoid the blitzer’s tackle.
The Dallas Cowboys interior doesn’t get much movement and Pollard has to cut back against the flow of the play behind a nice double team by La’el Collins and Blake Jarwin. They take care of the slanting defensive end and Pollard is able to pick up four yards for the first down.
On his final carry of the night, the Dallas Cowboys are in 22 personnel (two running backs, two wide receivers, and one tight end). The point of attack is running left, and Jarwin forces the left defensive end upfield allowing Pollard a cut back lane, which he wisely chooses as there isn’t much going to the play side and the offensive line isn’t able to execute any second-level blocks.
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Tony Pollard may not have had any explosive runs for 20 or more yards in this contest, but it was a solid performance in his first outing against NFL competition. More experience and exposure to the game speed will help him to get more comfortable running at this level.
What Pollard did show was good vision, quick processing, decision making, and a burst to get through the hole and pick up the yards that were available. He also showed a willingness to take on contact and lower the shoulder to attempt to get extra yards. There’s still work to be done, but it was an encouraging performance in his first preseason game.