Elliott followed with a league-leading 1,434 yards rushing on 304 carries and career-high 77 receptions.
The Cowboys still want to give the ball to Elliott as much as possible but the focus now is to maximize his talent for the long-haul by being smart about his usage.
This new off-season epiphany is based on the concept that the 381 touches Elliott had last year and the 1,003 touches he’s accumulated since being picked fourth overall in 2016 is simply not sustainable.
The Cowboys are committed to Elliott as a foundational piece for years to come. They recently picked up his fifth-year option and plan to sign him to a long-term contract extension in the near future.
“We understand what Zeke is to our football team and to our organization to our success,” running backs coach Gary Brown said Friday. “It’s important for us as an organization to maximize his ability to go out and help us win championships. The way to do that is to take a little bit off him.”
“It’s just physics,” Brown added. “Year after year with that type of workload, eventually, anyone’s going to slow down. We’re trying to preempt that and take care of him now.”
And this is where rookie fourth-round pick Tony Pollard and seventh-round pick Mike Weber come in.
Pollard has been billed as a gadget guy because of his explosive ability in space and production as a returner in college at Memphis.
But the Cowboys see him as a complete back who can do everything asked of him while also playing alongside Elliott at times.
“I know people think he’s going to be this gadget guy,” Brown said. “He’s more than that. He’s bigger than what you think he is and he runs powerful for a guy you think is a gadget guy. I think he can do all our runs and more.”
Pollard scored 25 touchdowns in college as a runner, receiver, and returner. He doesn’t mind being called a gadget back or change-of-pace back because it just means he can do it all with explosive abilities.
“’Change-of-pace’ back can be however you take it,” Pollard said. “The way I look at it is a guy coming in with a lot of speed being able to make the long home-run plays, also being able to run in between some tackles and get some hard yards and being able to make plays on special teams.”
To that end, he compares himself to New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
”I wouldn’t just compare myself to him, but I would just say me and him are similar in ways that we play,” Pollard said. “Just being able to do more than one thing, line up in the backfield as a running back, mismatches with the linebackers, running routes out of the backfield, making plays on special teams.”
What Pollard lacks as far as a traditional inside runner, Weber has in spades. He replaced Elliott as the lead back at Ohio State and has similar physical qualities, though not quite as flashy or explosive.
“Make no mistake about it, Zeke Elliott is going to be a huge part of what we do,” coach Jason Garrett said. “But if we can take a few snaps off of him here and there and be able to put a running back in that we can trust to do some of the things that he’s done for us, we certainly want to embrace that opportunity. But he’ll be the featured guy in our offense like he has been. He’s a great player.”
It’s all part of the plan to ease the load on Elliott while maximizing his production with the goal of making sure he is fresh for a long run in the playoffs.
“Zeke wants to win championships, and I think he understands where he sits in the hierarchy of the running back room,” Brown said. “He understands what he has to do and what he means to us, and at the same time, he understands he wants to be able to be fresh in January and February, if we get to the Super Bowl.”