If one thing is known about the Cowboys roster building ideology, it’s that their commitment to the running game is unwavering. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when this team keeps as many as three running backs, Fullback Jamize Olawale, three tight ends, and plenty of depth on the offensive line (although this may have to come from elsewhere).
There are certainly good candidates for the Cowboys third running back spot. Rookie Bo Scarbrough has yet to make a flash on special teams or in the passing game, which he may still have to in making the roster, but the Alabama product has carried his signature, hard running style into Dallas.
If the Cowboys haven’t backed down from their idea of hammering Scarbrough into defenses that have already dealt with a steady dose of Ezekiel Elliott, this is looking like a potentially sound strategy through two preseason games.
Running Back Darius Jackson is also back with the team, a sixth round draft pick in 2016 by the Cowboys. Jackson carried six times against the Bengals for 42 yards, showing glimpses of the big play running back that Dallas never worked into their offense during his rookie season.
Whether or not that will change in 2018 is becoming less likely thanks to the efforts of Running Back Rod Smith. In limited opportunities, Smith proved himself as a capable backup to Elliott last season, and has expanded on this role so far in the preseason.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan is looking to get all of his running backs involved as much as possible, particularly as pass catchers. Smith has looked exceptionally smooth catching the football, churning out yards with some open field elusiveness.
As a runner, Smith is also showing the power to fight for tough yards that will make it hard to take the Ohio State product off the field.
In the two seasons they’ve been led by another Buckeye in the backfield, the Cowboys have handed the ball off to their backs 839 times. With 564 of these carries going to Elliott (67%), there isn’t much room for a third running back to fill in the remaining snaps, especially with Smith’s 55 carries counting for 13% of the rushing offense a year ago.
Sure, the Cowboys are a better team thanks to their ability to go beyond Elliott and Smith to find production at running back. A perceived competition for the complimentary role to Elliott has not manifested though.
Rod Smith absolutely deserves a large role in the Cowboys offense, well beyond what both Jackson and Scarbrough are ready to contribute. Should this mean that only one makes the roster, the Cowboys should be fine with their decision.
Scarbrough saw almost half of the team’s special teams snaps in the preseason opener, but only five against the Bengals. Jackson has seen just 15 through two games total.
Underappreciated for his role on special teams, which was always going to make him a roster lock under new ST Coordinator Keith O’Quinn, Smith has not had the high volume of snaps here, but is likely being saved as a starter.
Smith played an average of 65% of the Cowboys special teams snaps in 2017.
The Dallas Cowboys running back tandem of Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith is the engine prepared to take this team as far as they want to go. Any other of the young backs they decide to keep can be looked at as upgrades for later in the season, as both Jackson and Scarbrough still require a lot of development.
Both will be featured heavily in the team’s remaining preseason games, but with Dak Prescott likely shut down until the season opener, and the team failing to field the quality OL depth they expected, it’s more mop-up duty than audition time for the Cowboys stable of backs.