FRISCO, Texas – It's a strange juxtaposition that makes up the fabric of a football team.
On one hand, Ezekiel Elliott has been suspended, and, after a lengthy fight against the NFL, appears poised to miss the Cowboys' next six games. It undoubtedly hurts the Cowboys' chances on the field to lose their All-Pro running back, and it hurts their locker room not to have one of its most energetic members.
At the same time, the players left behind have a job to do. It's a situation Rod Smith summarized well when he was asked about it Tuesday.
"If one man goes down, next man up. That's how you've got to look at it," Smith said. "You hate to see your boy going through this, and we're still going to support him. But he'd want us to keep the ball rolling, so we're definitely going to do that."
Therein lies the question for the rest of the running back room. How does the Cowboys' running game, ranked second in the league with 150 yards per outing, change without its starter in the lineup?
Fans and media can speculate all they want. Inside the Cowboys' locker room, it's a bit of a silly question – even an insulting one, depending on who you ask.
"These questions, I chuckle at them, but at the same time it's very insulting because we're pros," said Alfred Morris. "Nothing changes at all for me, other than all these cameras in my face."
Few would try to argue that Elliott isn't one of the NFL's best running backs, but Morris raised a solid point in his own defense. There aren't many running back rooms with more experience to draw on than this one. Morris, who has been Elliott's backup all season, is a two-time Pro Bowler with three 1,000-yard seasons to his name.
"It's no pressure. I mean, I've done this before," he said. I came out as a rookie and I've done this before. I've done it my first few years – over 1,000 yards. I was productive."
Darren McFadden, who has yet to even suit up for a game this season, has 1,301 career careers and two 1,000-yard seasons of his own. The longtime Oakland Raider is also plenty familiar with this week's opponent, having played Kansas City 11 times during his stint in the AFC West.
Frustrating as it might be to wait on the sideline, McFadden said he's done his best to stay ready all season by going as hard as possible in practice.
"I think it all starts with practice. I know game speed is different but that's where it starts," he said. "I've been going against our first-team defense. I think I'm going to be a little rusty but it won't take me long to knock that off."
Logic dictates that Morris would slide into the starting role, given his season long status as the No. 2 running back. But it'd probably be a mistake to assume too much. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett didn't want to detail his thought process on Wednesday, but he did acknowledge that all three backs would have a role to play.
"Your question is how do you substitute them, we're going to give them each opportunities, we're not going to lay out what that plan is," Garrett said. "We'll get opportunities to practice and work day-by-day this week. Each of those guys will have the opportunity to help us."
Morris and Smith have had chances to make contributions this year. In his regular work spelling Elliott, Morris has accumulated 105 yards on 13 carries – including the longest run of the Cowboys' season, a 70-yarder against the Rams in Week 4.
Smith is easily the least-accomplished of the three backs. But after a productive preseason, he managed some fourth quarter snaps in the lopsided win at San Francisco and tallied 61 yards on just eight carries.
"A lot of people are thinking that the running game is going to falter because Zeke's not here, but that's not the case," Morris said. "Will we miss him, yeah. But at the same time, the train goes on. We're going to do our job. We're going to show up every day and work hard."
Considering all of that, it's no wonder there's confidence within the walls of the Cowboys' facility. Doubt and speculation will come from outside, as that's the nature of the beast.
But if there's any pressure to replace one of the NFL's best backs, this group isn't feeling it – another point that Smith summed up quite well.
"I don't think it's no pressure," he said. "Like I said, all our backs are good. Zeke is the head honcho in our room right now, but it ain't going to be no slowing down. We're going to keep rolling."