June 24, 2024

Tony Pollard ‘fine’ with playing on franchise tag in 2023, ready to ‘haul’ starting running back workload

Despite the unrest at the running back position around the NFL, Dallas Cowboys’ new starter Tony Pollard is participating fully at training camp, at least as much as the coaching staff will let him coming off a gnarly ankle injury in the Cowboys’ NFC divisional round playoff loss at the San Francisco 49ers in January. The NFL’s leader in scrimmage yards per touch (5.9) last season is looking forward to proving he can be the lead back for the Cowboys in the team’s first season without Ezekiel Elliott, the No. 4 overall draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft

“At this point, it is what it is,” Pollard said Wednesday, via The Athletic, at Cowboys training camp. “I signed the tag, I’m here in camp. I’m just ready to focus on the main thing and just stick to winning. Yeah, that’s [making $10 million fully guaranteed on the franchise tag] fine with me.”    

Even though Elliott’s release this offseason came in part because of Pollard’s top-shelf efficiency as his backup, the three-time Pro Bowl free agent went out of his way to send his successor words of encouragement ahead of the team’s first training camp practice on Wednesday. 

“It means a lot,” Pollard said, via The Dallas Morning News, when talking about Ezekiel Elliott wishing him good luck via text. “With his situation, not being anywhere, but him still checking on us and making sure we’re all right.”    

That’s head coach Mike McCarthy’s first thoughts on Pollard as he gets set to be his offense’s workhorse. The depth behind Pollard is inexperienced in terms of actual, NFL playtime between second-year, undrafted running back Malik Davis, 2023 sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn, and fourth-year, undrafted running back Rico Dowdle. 

“I think the first thing is still recognizing he’s [Pollard] coming off an injury,” McCarthy said Wednesday when asked about managing Pollard as the team’s top running back in training camp. “That won’t change as far as his leadership role that he’s in. The management will just be how his reps climb throughout here. We’re in a ramp-up phase for the whole team. We’re only going to use three of the four practices. The third day we’re going to go into higher teaching mode, which is part of our design. That will help him get to the numbers we’re looking for on a smooth rise. At the end of the day, it’s been really cool to see Tony step up and lead that running back room. He’s speaking up in the meetings more. He’s very high in awareness. His attention to details has been excellent. He’s been a great role model to our young players.”

The speed for Pollard’s recovery can be credited to undergoing a “Tightrope” operation instead of a surgical procedure that involves having screws put into the tibia and fibula for a repair. A cord, rather than a rigid surgical screw, is applied to restore the original position of the bones and to allow for proper healing in the “Tightrope” process. The fractured fibula Pollard suffered during the injury is now healed as well. The 26-year-old said he felt “faster” after going through his injury recovery process. Pollard practiced in more of a walkthrough capacity in the team’s organized team activities and minicamp earlier in the offseason, but he feels ready to roll for training camp and Week 1. 

“Whatever they throw at me, I can handle it,” Pollard said Wednesday, via The Athletic, at Cowboys training camp. “I’m ready to go. Whatever they throw at me I’m gonna make the most of it and we’ll see how that goes. If they call it, I’m gonna haul it.”

Even though Pollard’s 5.9 yards per touch led the NFL among players with at least 200 touches in 2022, he still had 16 fewer touches than the declining Elliott, whose 3.9 yards per touch was dead last in the league among players with at least 200 touches last season. San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey totaled 1,880 scrimmage yards, 502 more than Pollard’s 1,378, while ranking second in yards per touch (5.7) behind the Cowboys rusher (McCaffrey had 97 more touches than Pollard (329 to 232). If Pollard can maintain a similar yards-per-touch average while “hauling” higher workload, he should be able to fetch one of the bigger running back contracts of the last few years next offseason. 

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