With Dallas Cowboys training camp kicking off in Oxnard, Calif., next week, the running back room remains one of the most intriguing position groups.
The team is locked and loaded with a starting running back for the 2023-2024 season, but now what?
There are still a few reasons to keep an eye on this position group going into training camp.
Tony Pollard’s ‘Prove It’ Season
While Monday’s deadline for franchise-tagged RB Tony Pollard to sign an extension passed with no deal, his status with the team is unchanged.
Although Pollard was placed on the franchise tag in March, the NFL’s deadline has passed for teams to negotiate a contract extension, meaning that Pollard will play under the RB tag value of $10.091 million this season.
Pollard suffered a broken leg in the NFC Divisional Round against the San Francisco 49ers last season.
We have yet to see how or if this injury will impact Pollard. He spoke to the media before minicamp, saying he was on schedule with his recovery. He went on to say that he wasn’t limited with practices but is being smart with working his way back into things ahead of training camp.
Pollard will be the Cowboys’ 2023 feature back. But the competition for the RB2 spot is wide open for the first time in the last couple of years.
Dallas Cowboys’ 2023 Running Back Room
With the Cowboys cutting RB Ezekiel Elliott this offseason, it was clear that Pollard would step in to be the team’s starter.
Although Elliott’s production has decreased over time, Dallas still needs to fill his absence.
Because of Zeke’s physicality, production in the red zone, and natural leadership, finding the right player to step into the second-string spot won’t be easy for the Cowboys’ front office and coaching staff.
Plus, this will be the first time a player will step into the role Pollard has paved for the RB2 position since his takeoff season back in 2021.
This competition will include Malik Davis, Ronald Jones, Hunter Luepke, and Rico Dowdle.
But one of those players is ready to head into that battle with a little more of a chip on his shoulder. Dowdle hopes to fulfill the interchangeable approach that worked well for the Cowboys’ offense last season.
Opportunity Knocks for Rico Dowdle
Whether you call it the “thunder and lightning” or the “one-two punch” approach, the Cowboys’ offense adopted a new system that utilized multiple backs in their offensive scheme last season.
Interchanging two RBs allowed the Cowboys to do a few things:
Make the scheme less predictable.
Utilize each player’s strengths when needed.
Prevent less of a beating to their bodies by not having one player taking every rep.
This worked well for the team, with 2,298 rushing yards and 24 rushing touchdowns in the 2022 season.
Dowdle feels that he can step in and be just what the Cowboys need at the right moment.
Dowdle Speaks to PFN
Dowdle, an undrafted free agent in 2020, has yet to have a chance to shine because of his injury history. But he’s not letting that stop him, especially now.
“I’ve been working as hard as I have probably ever worked coming up to this training camp,” said Dowdle in an exclusive interview with PFN.
Dowdle emphasized that he has been preparing his body now more than ever, especially with the opportunity in front of him.
“This offseason feels different with a little more of an opportunity to go out there and try to have a role,” said Dowdle.
Dowdle, who is 5′11″ and 216 pounds, hopes to continue working hard and fill in the physical RB void without Elliott.
“Being that physical guy that Zeke was that he brought to the table, so [I want to] keep that identity. That’s always been my game anyways, but just trying to keep being a hard-nosed runner, downhill, straightforward, and being the best I can be for my team,” said Dowdle.
It’s Now Mike McCarthy’s Offense
Another offseason change was the Cowboys revamping the offense under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and head coach Mike McCarthy calling the plays.
Dowdle says this new “Texas Coast” offense is similar to before, but learning the playbook isn’t an issue for him.
“It hasn’t really been different for me; we got the add-ons and stuff, but being out there with Coach McCarthy and Coach [Schottenheimer], I’m just excited to see how it plays out,” said Dowdle.
Dowdle says it’s been great working with Schottenheimer, who he described as a “real smooth guy” that frequently pops in the running back room.
Overall, Dowdle’s message ahead of camp next week was simple: “Let’s get it on!”
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