OXNARD, Calif. – Most of Saturday's opening series was pretty routine for a preseason game.
The Cowboys' starters took the field, got nine plays under their belts, settled for a field goal and retired to the bench to wear baseball caps for the rest of the night. It was the standard stuff that's seen all across the NFL at the start of the preseason.
It was a bit unusual to see Tony Pollard get the same treatment. The rookie running back played with the starters for the entire first series, carrying the ball four times for 16 yards and helping march the ball to the San Francisco 7-yard line.
"He had a couple good runs, a couple good protections, seemed comfortable, it didn't seem too big for him," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
That was the end of Pollard's night. When the offense returned to the field later in the first quarter, it was fellow rookie Mike Pollard getting the reps with the second team. Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn mixed into the action as the night went on.
Asked about it Monday, Garrett chalked it up as part of the plan for playing time.
"We wanted to see all the backs in that Week 1 game, and he'll get plenty of work here as we go the next few weeks," he said.
Even if that's true, it's still a fairly noticeable discrepancy in play time – especially for a rookie drafted at the tail end of the fourth round.
Parsing through some quotes from Saturday night, though, it's possible to get an idea for the Cowboys' game plan. Asked about his impressions from the game, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones gave a glowing review of Pollard, including a possible glimpse into his future.
"I certainly thought he had a good account of himself. He looks confident out there, we know he's inordinately understanding of what he does and can do," Jones said. "We've seen him do it, we know he's capable of, if he really needs to, carrying the whole load."
That's a heck of a projection, even for a guy who has been as impressive as Pollard has – but it meshes with what's been happening at training camp. Over the course of the past two weeks, the rookie's workload has grown slowly but surely as he has established himself at the top of the pecking order.
"The thing you always watch for with young players is, is the information slowing them down," Garrett said. "Do you see smoke coming out of their ears? Do you see this look on their face? He hasn't really shown that. He's been able to handle it."
Of course, the gigantic caveat in all of this is Ezekiel Elliott. If or when the All-Pro ends his hold out and returns to the team, he's the unquestioned bell cow at the top of the depth chart.
But as they evaluate the position without Elliott, it's becoming increasingly obvious how much they like Pollard – and how much they might ask of him in Year 1.