Dallas Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown has plenty of friends who play fantasy football. They all want his inside knowledge, especially now with starter Ezekiel Elliott set to begin serving a six-game suspension after his latest legal loss.
Brown tells them not to call.
“They’re not getting no info,” Brown said, laughing. “They call me, but they don’t get nothing from me. I tell them, I make up stuff like, ‘Oh, yeah, I can’t talk about it. Oh, yeah, the league will fine me. They’ll fire me.’
“I make up stuff, so they never call me.”
There’s no making up just how valuable Elliott has been for the Cowboys, particularly during this three-game winning streak.
This is the reigning rushing champion who is on pace for a second consecutive 1,500-yard-or-better season. He ranks second in the league with 783 rushing yards and is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball.
Now he’s gone at least for four games of his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy as his next court hearing is set for Dec. 1, pending another unforeseen development.
If he serves the full six-game suspension, Elliott won’t return until the Christmas Eve game against the Seattle Seahawks.
But Brown and the Cowboys are confident they have enough depth to fill the void. Veterans Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden each have been 1,000-yard backs in the league, and Rod Smith has flashed promising signs early on in his career.
Asked if he’s confident in his backups, Brown said: “Absolutely. And, if you ask Zeke, he’d tell you the same thing. These three guys are ready to rock and roll.”
The Cowboys have known all season the uncertainty of Elliott’s status, but have done their best to maintain the status quo as the legal process played out.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan downplayed any notion of altering the game plan in Elliott’s absence.
“No change to what we do, so we really haven’t got any contingency if this were to happen, or this weren’t to happen, that we would change anything,” Linehan said.
The Cowboys players, coaching staff and front office all feel good about the depth behind Elliott. As Brown said, they’ll be ready to roll Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Rush attempts: 1,161
Rush yards: 5,072
Rush touchdowns: 31
The projected starter in place of Elliott has three 1,000-yard seasons in his career (2012-14 with Washington). He has served as the Cowboys’ primary backup this season, rushing for 116 yards on 14 carries (including a 70-yard run against the LA Rams in Week 4).
Morris’ take: “A lot of people thinking, ‘Oh, the run game’s going to falter or this is going to falter because Zeke’s not here,’ but that’s not the case. Will we miss him? Yeah. But at the same time, the train goes on. So we’re going to do our job and show up every day and work hard.”
Gary Brown: “Alfred is probably the master of the outside zone.”
Jason Garrett: “He’s just very comfortable doing [the zone scheme]. He’s done it a lot in his career and had a lot of success doing it. His footwork is outstanding. He’s got great patience. He’s got very good vision, change of direction and acceleration through the hole. He’s a good football player. He’s one of those guys who would probably be good in any scheme.”
Jerry Jones on 105.3 The Fan: “Alfred Morris is a proven back and has unique skills [for] the way we block. And he can really pick the soft spots, so that’s good.”
Center Travis Frederick: “When you watch him on film, it appears that he has a certain feel for the zone game. I think the way that Alfred makes the cut and hits the hole explosively is impressive.”
Rush attempts: 1,301
Rush yards: 5,423
Rush touchdowns: 28
This is a guy who has gotten it done for the Cowboys. He was the league’s fourth-leading rusher in 2015 when he took over the reigns as the lead back. He had 1,089 yards that season, his second 1,000-yard rushing season. He has been inactive all of this season after being passed over by Morris on the depth chart.
McFadden’s take: “For us, it’s something that’s been in the making, man. I just always told myself to stay ready. Whenever I get an opportunity, just try to come out there and do the best that I can.”
Gary Brown: “Darren is a speed guy. He’s always a threat to go home run. I think he still has that breakaway speed. I think that he has to knock the rust off, but I think if he gets loose, it’s going to be hard for anybody to catch him.”
Jason Garrett: “He’s had such a positive influence on our team. Most of it is because of his example, what he does in the weight room, what he does during practice, after practice, to get himself ready to play. He takes cares of his body. He recognizes at some point he’s going to get an opportunity and he’s prepared for it. His approach is outstanding.”
Jerry Jones on 105.3 The Fan: “Darren is one of the most talented backs that I’ve ever seen, certainly early in his career. He hasn’t got as much mileage on that frame as being in his 10th year might indicate, so he’s fresh.”
Center Travis Frederick: “With him coming from what I term a power scheme, we didn’t know what to expect coming into a zone game [in 2015]. But the way he runs the zone and hits the line of scrimmage with such intensity, he was a guy that always finishes forward. He’s going to hit somebody and get another two yards or at least fall forward. He doesn’t usually get driven back. So he does have a little power to him.”
Rush attempts: 12
Rush yards: 74
Rush touchdowns: 0
The most inexperienced of the group, but the coaches have liked what they’ve seen from him. Smith had a 45-yard run at San Francisco in Week 7, and continues to take strides in his development after spending last year working as a fullback. He has served primarily as the third-down back and been a valuable special teams player this season.
Smith’s take: “It’s always sad when you see a guy has got to go down, for any reason. But we’ve got good backs in our room. We’re still confident, our team is confident. He [Elliott] wants us to keep the ball rolling, so we’re definitely going to do that. … Just a different number.”
Gary Brown: “Rod is a big, fast strong guy.”
Jason Garrett: “Whenever he’s gotten opportunities in games, he shows up and he’s very productive for us. He’s been a very good special teams player for us, that’s been his primary role, but he’s capable of doing whatever we ask him to do offensively.”
Jerry Jones on 105.3 The Fan: “Smith, our big running back, is someone that’s got our coaching staff excited, got me excited, and has a chance to really make a contribution. He’s been doing great on special teams. But make no mistake about it, I think he’s developing into a very viable three-down back.”
Center Travis Frederick: “Rod’s interesting. He’s kind of a hybrid of it all. He’s so powerful, but he’s also got explosion. He makes some guys miss. You [saw] some kind of unorthodox things out of him in the preseason. I would say he’s an exciting runner because you never know what’s going to happen. But he has learned patience in the last year or two, which when you first come in you don’t necessarily have.”