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Athletic: ‘Zeke wants to win championships’ - Addition of Pollard & Weber about chasing titles, Elliott’s future

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  • Athletic: ‘Zeke wants to win championships’ - Addition of Pollard & Weber about chasing titles, Elliott’s future


    By Saad Yousuf May 11, 2019

    Paul “Bear” Bryant, legendary football coach, once said, “When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it and don’t repeat it.”

    Whether the manner in which the Cowboys used running back DeMarco Murray in 2014, his fourth season in the NFL, was a mistake might be subject to debate. Yes, Murray was the engine of the team that went 12-4, but Murray accumulated 449 touches in a contract year, leading to questions about how much longer he could really hold up given the beating he had already taken. That led to Murray leaving and a running back carousel in 2015 before they grabbed Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in 2016 to restore the offensive identity.

    As Elliott enters his fourth season in the NFL, the 2014 situation is what the Cowboys hope to avoid. That’s why Tony Pollard and Mike Weber were drafted.

    “From the standpoint of efficiency within a game as well as from managing our overall future, we need some good running back skill behind Zeke,” Jerry Jones said. “That covers a lot of ground when you’re talking about what we’re doing with Zeke. Prudence tells you, you need to manage this, and these guys let us manage Zeke.”

    This is not setting up for any kind of passing of a torch down the road or a plan for life without Elliott, such as, say, the drafting of Conner McGovern might be prepping for an offensive line without La’el Collins down the road. This is very much about the Cowboys knowing they want to give Elliott a second contract and making sure they can stretch out his production over a long period of time.

    “That was a goal coming into this draft, was let’s let us wisely use Zeke now and in the future,” Jones said. “Those two address that perfectly.”

    Pollard and Weber are both tasked with the same mission but will be executing the plan in different roles. Pollard, the fourth-round pick, is seen more as a complementary back to Elliott in the way that third-round pick Alvin Kamara was to Mark Ingram in New Orleans until Ingram signed with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. Weber is the traditional back who is more of a primary backup with a similar skill set to Elliott, though obviously not at the same skill level.

    Traditionally, there hasn’t been much of a workload split during Elliott’s tenure with the Cowboys. In 2018, Elliott accounted for 91 percent of the rushing yards and 85 percent of the carries from the running back position. In 2017, Elliott missed six games due to suspension, but in the 10 games he was eligible, he accounted for 88.5 percent of the rushing yards and 90 percent of the carries. The year production was spread out the most was his rookie year, when he accounted for 82 percent of the rushing yards and 76 percent of the carries. Unsurprisingly, Elliott won the NFL rushing title in the two full seasons he has played. He also has caught 32, 26 and 77 passes, respectively, in those three seasons.

    All of that is very important to the integration of Pollard and Weber. With how good Elliott has been, he isn’t threatened because it’s common knowledge that he is the undisputed focal point of the Cowboys offense. From Elliott to the coaches and everybody else, it’s obvious that when the games matter most, Elliott must be in the spotlight.

    On a team with a number of people on hot seats, Elliott’s is as cold as Antarctica. Leading the NFL in rushing is still a goal, but the priority isn’t winning rushing titles, it’s winning Super Bowl titles.

    “Zeke wants to win championships,” running back coach Gary Brown said. “I think that he understands where he sits in the hierarchy of the running back room. He understands what he has to do and what he means to us, and at the same time, he understands that he wants to be able to be fresh in January and February if we get to the Super Bowl. He wants to be fresh then. That’s important to him.”

    Pollard’s role in Operation Conserve Zeke will vary. When drafted, he was mostly talked about as a “gadget guy” who might have some special plays in the playbook tailored for him. That still might be true, but the Cowboys view him as more of a complete back who can do damage in space and run in between the tackles.

    Pollard feels the same way.

    “They see me as a running back that’s also talented enough to line up and make mismatches against the linebackers, running routes out of the backfield and being a contributor on special teams as well,” Pollard said. “Change-of-pace back, it can be however you take it. The way I look at it is a guy coming in with a lot of speed, being able to make the long home-run plays (and) also being able to run in between the tackles, get some hard yards and being able to make some plays on special teams.”

    Through the two days of rookie minicamp this weekend, coaches have told Pollard they view him as an option on the field with Elliott or subbing in for him as well, depending on the situation. Going back to the Ingram-Kamara comparison, which was thrown out there by Stephen Jones on draft night, here is how that duo fared in 2017 when a midround draft pick came in to help an established starter. Ingram led the way with 230 carries and Kamara had 120. However, Kamara caught 81 passes to Ingram’s 58. Obviously, Elliott is a better player than Ingram, so to expect those kinds of numbers for the Elliott-Pollard duo would be unfair and unrealistic, but that’s the sort of dynamic that’s in play.

    My colleague Bob Sturm did an excellent, in-depth breakdown of all the things Pollard brings to the table, his strengths and his weaknesses, earlier this week.

    After his first minicamp practice Friday, Pollard said he might add a few pounds to make sure he’s ready for the physical toll the position will take on his body but feels he’s mostly set the way he stands. With Weber, there’s not much tinkering that needs to be done. He has a compact frame and is more of a traditional three-down back.

    “He can do all three downs,” Brown said. “That’s the type of back we want to draft. We want to draft three-down guys; we don’t want to draft guys that can only play on first and second down. We want three-down guys that can protect the ball, protect the quarterback and play well in the running game.”

    Weber left the morning practice session Saturday with a knee injury and will be getting an MRI. He attended the afternoon session but did not participate.

    The hard-nosed running game comes easier to Weber, while the playmaking in space and catching the ball are more of Pollard’s forte. Running and catching are football players making plays, but the area in which both will need to prove their reliability is in pass protection. That’s the phase of a running back’s game that usually takes a little longer to translate from the college level to the NFL because of all of the nuances that go with it, from understanding scheme to simply facing bigger, more athletic defensive players.

    With rookie minicamps in the books and OTAs starting next week, the Cowboys have a plan for how they want the running back distribution to look. Some of the details of that can change depending on how quickly Pollard and Weber develop and what they show in training camp and preseason. The relief can come by spelling Elliott more times each game, or it can be shouldering some more earlier in the season and tapering off, making way for Elliott as the season goes along and the games become bigger.

    Along with helping keep Elliott fresh this season, the Cowboys hope these additions help keep Elliott productive in Dallas for at least the length of another contract.

    “It’s just physics,” Brown said. “Year after year after year with that type of workload, eventually anybody is going to slow down. We’re trying to pre-empt that by taking care of him (Elliott) now.”
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

  • #2
    Thing is when you draft depth players you also need to PLAY THEM.

    Marion Barber was overplayed to the point of exhaustion and perennial injury. Murray was too, though his contract expired before he we could burn him out.

    Zeke already looks like he’s had too much. I fear these picks might have been too late.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by ravidubey View Post
      Thing is when you draft depth players you also need to PLAY THEM.

      Marion Barber was overplayed to the point of exhaustion and perennial injury. Murray was too, though his contract expired before he we could burn him out.

      Zeke already looks like he’s had too much. I fear these picks might have been too late.
      He did a helluva job behind a beat up line last year. This line should be far better.
      defense wins championships

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by p1_ View Post

        He did a helluva job behind a beat up line last year. This line should be far better.
        I think 2018 caused triple the wear and tear on Zeke over any other year. He took a lot of punishment.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by ravidubey View Post

          I think 2018 caused triple the wear and tear on Zeke over any other year. He took a lot of punishment.
          Especially because on top of all the rushes he also had like 70 catches. Something I really hope Pollard can eat in to substantially. And honestly I kind of remember being frustrated with what Zeke was able to do once he caught the ball. So from that aspect I'm sort of excited to see what a quicker guy like Pollard can do with those catches. We passed to the RB a ton so there should be some balls for him there.

          Of course you have to actually take Zeke off the field to do that and I'm afraid we won't.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Cowboysrock55 View Post

            Especially because on top of all the rushes he also had like 70 catches. Something I really hope Pollard can eat in to substantially. And honestly I kind of remember being frustrated with what Zeke was able to do once he caught the ball. So from that aspect I'm sort of excited to see what a quicker guy like Pollard can do with those catches. We passed to the RB a ton so there should be some balls for him there.

            Of course you have to actually take Zeke off the field to do that and I'm afraid we won't.
            I'm okay with having Zeke on the field with Pollard. It would give defenses just one more thing to have to account for. But, he doesn't have to touch the ball every single time he is on the field. You can use him as a decoy, and get the ball to Pollard on an option route or something similar.
            2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Iamtdg View Post

              I'm okay with having Zeke on the field with Pollard. It would give defenses just one more thing to have to account for. But, he doesn't have to touch the ball every single time he is on the field. You can use him as a decoy, and get the ball to Pollard on an option route or something similar.
              i like the idea of both being on the field together.
              defense wins championships

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by p1_ View Post

                i like the idea of both being on the field together.
                Garrett doesn't understand. So which one is going to be Daryl Johnston and which one is Emmitt Smith? Anything else does not compute.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cowboysrock55 View Post

                  Garrett doesn't understand. So which one is going to be Daryl Johnston and which one is Emmitt Smith? Anything else does not compute.
                  Exactly.

                  And he refuses to throw to backs by design outside of the twice a year screen pass.

                  Everything is a late check down and LB’s tee off on whoever catches it.

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