OXNARD, Calif. – When head coach Jason Garrett held his first team meeting Friday from Oxnard, the message to his players did not include Ezekiel Elliott's current absence from training camp.
"We really didn't address it at all," Garrett said. "We just talked to our team as if it were Day 1 and we shared with them what our expectations are – what they can expect from us and what we expect from them, what the schedules are, what we're going to do and how we're going to do it."
Elliott is seeking a long-term contract extension from the organization that drafted him fourth overall in 2016. The Cowboys have been in touch with his camp, but it's unclear if or when the All-Pro running back will report to camp without a new deal in place.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones called the matter "business as usual" in the NFL. Chief operating officer Stephen Jones said he's "optimistic that we can make this all come together."
And Garrett's job is to keep the rest of the 90-man roster focused on the 16 practices scheduled for the next three weeks here on the west coast.
For now, that means more reps for the running backs who are in camp: Darius Jackson, Jordan Chunn and 2019 draft picks Tony Pollard (fourth round) and Mike Weber Jr. (seventh round).
Pollard and Weber are talented rookies. Chunn spent last year on the practice squad and has shown potential. But only Jackson has a regular-season carry.
"We're just taking advantage of our opportunities as a group," Jackson said after Saturday's morning walkthrough. "Zeke's got business to handle, so we're just focusing on who's here and what we're doing now."
This is Jackson's third stint with the Cowboys. Originally their sixth-round pick in 2016, the 25-year-old was released in the middle of his rookie year and picked up by the Browns. He sat out the 2017 season with a knee injury, went to camp with the Cowboys again, then to Green Bay for a month, then back to Dallas last October.
Jackson got the first carries of his career (6 for 16 yards) last December against the Giants when the team opted to rest Elliott for the playoffs. He was primarily the No. 2 back behind Elliott during offseason workouts open to the media.
"This league's about opportunity," Jackson said. "If it presents itself, I'll be ready.
"It was big for me coming back to this system. I felt like I had unfinished business and still do. So that's what I'm after. I'm chasing after accomplishing my personal goals."
Overall, it's a group short on experience. But if there's a silver lining to this Zeke-less start, the coaching staff will have a better chance to evaluate down the depth chart – particularly Pollard and Weber, who have never been in an NFL camp.
Weber and Elliott were teammates for a year at Ohio State. He's viewed as a traditional back. Some draft observers labeled Pollard as a 'gadget,' change-of-pace runner at Memphis, but the Cowboys believe otherwise.
"I think they've done a really nice job, worked hard in the offseason really starting with that first rookie minicamp and through the OTAs and the minicamp," Garrett said. "You see those guys getting better before your eyes."
And there's more time to watch them until Elliott returns.