FRISCO, Texas – When Tony Pollard arrived as a fourth-round pick in 2019, "versatile" was probably the best word to describe his game.
Now in his fourth season, Pollard's versatility might come in handy more than ever.
The 25-year-old running back is just fine with that.
"Backfield, receiver, returner, wherever," he said.
Pollard has emerged as a dynamic complement to starter Ezekiel Elliott within the Cowboys' offense, particularly last season. As Elliott dealt with a nagging knee injury for all but three games,
Pollard delivered career highs in rushing yards (719), yards per carry (5.5), catches (39) and receiving yards (337) while also posting the first kickoff return touchdown of his career.
Elliott is back healthy from a partially torn PCL in his right knee that did not require surgery and is again expected to be the featured running back. But there's still room for offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to feature Pollard's explosiveness.
The wide receiver group is in transition following the Amari Cooper trade to Cleveland. Michael Gallup is still working his way back from February ACL surgery, third-round draft pick Jalen Tolbert is just starting to build a rapport with quarterback Dak Prescott, and veteran free agent signing James Washington has been sidelined by a foot injury in OTAs.
Perhaps 2022 is the perfect time to fully tap into Pollard's do-everything skill set. He has proved capable of it since college. In three seasons at Memphis, he averaged 6.8 yards per carry, posted 114 career catches with nine receiving touchdowns and returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns.
"There's definitely a lot of opportunities out there with guys like Coop leaving, a guy like MG probably not going to be ready for the first game," Pollard said. "Guys got their opportunity and just got to maximize."
Pollard was indeed featured more in the offense last year – his 130 carries and 46 receiving targets were both career highs – but mostly has been a change-of-pace option behind Elliott in the backfield. In practices this offseason, he said he's worked a few individual drills at receiver just to keep that part of his game sharp.
"It's definitely different bringing it back to college," he said. "It just makes things a little easier being out wide, catching the ball, not having to worry about the first line of defense, the linebacker, then the safety. Once you're out wide, you really just have one guy to beat and then you can get off to the races there."
"I'm open to anything. Just being on the field, being able to make the most of my opportunities. If I have to line up in the slot a little more, whatever it takes. I'm ready to do it."
Said head coach Mike McCarthy: "I think he has that respect as a perimeter player. But if you break them down, as defenses have done and will continue to focus on, you look at his route tree, so we've got to be in tune with that. Are we just going to play him out there and run a couple things or is he going to be a legitimate receiver threat? Those are things that you look at and work on in the offseason, and Tony has those characteristics and capabilities to do all that."
Pollard is entering the final season of his rookie deal. A big season as a super-sub could yield a big second contract.
He's just focused on whatever he can do to help the offense.
"I just need to do what I've been doing," he said. "Just keep doing that."