Training Camp | 2022

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RB Coach: No. 3 Back Will Have Sizable Role In 2022 

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OXNARD, Calif. - Take my hand for a moment, and let's have a quick heart-to-heart about the Dallas Cowboys situation at running back. Now that you're all settled in, it's time you digest a cold, hard fact about Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard heading into the 2022 season: the team views it as a tag team title match and not either of the two setting up to do their best impression of Shawn Michaels in Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake's shop (Google it).

No matter how it's spun outside of the building, there is no Marty Jannetty in this scenario, but it's instead reminiscent of Michaels joining forces with Triple H - a combo that can be destructive if the script is written well. Skip Peete, the team's RB coach who is now on his second stint with the club, has such a vision in mind.

"We like both guys," Peete said on Friday, speaking from training camp in Oxnard. "Both guys have a unique skill set, so we want to try to maximize that as much as we can."

Elliott was hampered by a torn PCL during the back end of the 2021 season, but still managed to rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,289 yards from scrimmage with 12 touchdowns) and, now healthy, is again putting his quickness and burst on display in camp.

"I think he's got it back," said Peete. "He looks quicker to me in the first part of camp than he had at the end of last year. I think he's lost a little bit of weight - his quickness is there."

So if you're expecting a pitch count on Elliott, don't, but feel free to look forward to what might be the most balance the Cowboys have seen at running back since Pollard joined the team as their fourth-round pick in 2019.

That is the plan, at least.

"It's not going to be a pitch count [on Zeke]," said Peete. "But I think it's going to be a [fluid] count because they're going to share time. It's going to naturally work out that way. They're both going to play, depending on the games and situations, how much are they both going to be involved at the same time - so I think that aspect will work itself out naturally.

"I don't think you ever go into a game [putting Elliott on a pitch count]. I think you say, 'Hey, we're going to utilize both of these guys.' Some game plans are probably going to be more with both of them playing more than the other, who knows?

"It just depends on the game."

Peete, whose extensive coaching experience extends backward into the collegiate ranks and, at the NFL level, includes having recently spent time with the Los Angeles Rams before returning to the Cowboys in 2020.

He dug deep into his football past to make some interesting comparisons to what he's trying achieve/would like to see happen in Dallas, with the aid of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and head coach Mike McCarthy - comparing the Elliott and Pollard tandem to having the potential of Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown, Marion Barber and Julius Jones, Marion Barber and Felix Jones or Felix Jones alongside DeMarco Murray.

But, should that mission be accomplished this coming season, it will require a very capable third running back to spell them both, and especially if Elliott and Pollard are called upon often in two-back sets as the wide receiver unit also tries to sort itself out.

"When you utilize two guys quite a bit in the game at the same time, your third back has got to be heavily involved," said Peete. "It's going to be a guy that will probably play a little more than the typical third back would play."

As it stands, that crown belongs to Rico Dowdle, a talented young upstart who began making waves on the RB depth chart before seeing Year 2 derailed last August by a hip injury that ended his season. Entering Year 3, Dowdle looks determined, willing and able to make some plays for the Cowboys when Elliott and/or Pollard need a breather.

But don't count out rookies Malik Davis and Aaron Shampklin in this fight, though.

"They're all challenging for that role [of RB3]," said Peete. "But if we had to play a game tomorrow? Rico has really shown that he's matured a lot and has a complete understanding of what we're doing. If you would've asked me two years ago, I would've probably said it's wide open.

"But, right now, I think he's kind of distanced himself from those other guys a little bit because of his ability of being here and understanding what we're doing - he has two months under his belt versus six months. Those two other guys are pretty talented as well. The way they've picked up the system has been very, very impressive, and I wouldn't put anything past those guys challenging anybody."

As a related aside, you can also expect Dowdle to "get a lot of reps" in each of the Cowboys three preseason games. The name of the RB3 game is to show and prove in August for the right to play in September and beyond because, as Peete readily admits, an impact third back remains critical in keeping a pair of spry legs on the field at all times.

"The key is making sure we have fresh guys in there for an entire game," he said.. "If you have that fresh [RB] in there for the whole game, it puts a little bit more pressure on the defense."

It will all begin and end with Moore finally making good on his promise to scheme both Elliott and Pollard onto the field at the same time, and often.

Tag team, off the ropes.

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