Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy: Tony Pollard participating in OTAs on a reduced tempo, has chance to be ‘lead back’

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Everything is lining up for a massive Tony Pollard season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2023. 

The 26-year-old earned his first Pro Bowl selection after the 2022 season because of a career-high 1,378 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns. He topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time, and 75% of his scoring was on the ground with nine rushing touchdowns. Despite suffering a fractured fibula in the Cowboys’ season-ending NFC Divisional Round playoff defeat at the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas head coach and play-caller Mike McCarthy said Thursday that Pollard is participating on a reduced tempo, per the Dallas Morning News

That’s a significant development for the Cowboys and Pollard, whose 5.9 yards per touch led the NFL among players with at least 200 touches in 2022. Just as notable is that with the Cowboys releasing Ezekiel Elliott — one of their franchise leaders whose 3.9 yards per touch was dead last in the league among players with at least 200 touches last season — it’s Tony time in Dallas. Despite the contrast in productivity a year ago, Elliott, who was on a six-year, $90 million contract, received 16 more touches than Pollard.

Pollard’s backfield mates are now the undrafted Malik Davis, 2023 sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn and journeyman Ronald Jones. That’s why McCarthy felt comfortable spelling out Pollard’s role as he enters 2023 on the franchise tag: He can be their lead running back for the first time. 

“I don’t think you just go out and replace Zeke,” McCarthy said Thursday, via The Athletic. “I’ve never viewed it that way. Business, cap economics, that’s real. You make decisions and sometimes the decisions definitely factor in the next decision or two that’s coming down the road. We were just doing short yardage and goal line last night and he just jumps off the tape. This really isn’t about replacing Zeke. It’s really about opportunities for the young guys. Tony’s opportunity to be the lead back. We’re just getting all those guys ready. Deuce is the new guy. It’s been cool to see him implemented into the things we’ve been doing here the last week. The group will look different because his presence is not there any more.”  

Vaughn, the Kansas State product who the Cowboys list at 5-foot-6, 176 pounds, will likely factor as someone will spell Pollard from time to time, but not somebody who profiles as an every-down back. With Dallas running out of time on its stars’ rookie deals and Pollard on the franchise tag, 2023 is a make-or-break season. Pollard, the NFL’s most explosive player on a per-touch basis, could propel their offense to new heights in the coming months by being a bigger part of their game plan going forward.

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