If it wasn’t for their struggling kicking competition taking some attention away from the Cowboys wide receivers, they would be the hottest topic of training camp. As the Cowboys are trying to develop young players like T.J. Vasher, Dennis Houston, and KaVontae Turpin, they’ve also seen experienced players like CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, and Dalton Schultz make big plays.
Doing this against Dan Quinn’s defense is no easy task, but questions will still remain when the Cowboys face live competition and defenses that can prepare for their scheme. With so many new faces in the lineup, the Cowboys haven’t shown too many new wrinkles in Kellen Moore’s offense, instead using two of their best playmakers in a more dynamic role.
Getting their offensive lineman blocking out in space on the second level has been a focus, and with that Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have both seen plenty of work in the screen game. Looking to get back to their run-first ways, the Cowboys need to find new ways to get the ball in Elliott’s and Pollard’s hands. They have done that so far.
Even though the passing game abandoned them in some big moments during the 2021 season, it was the Cowboys inability to run the ball, even against soft boxes, that really hurt them. They’ve teased using more misdirection and motion to influence second level defenders in Oxnard, and have found a surprising amount of speed to stretch the defense in receivers like Jalen Tolbert and Simi Fehoko.
This ability to take the top off a defense should help the Cowboys run the ball, but also set up the short-to-intermediate game for a dangerous receiver like Pollard. There is merit in setting up tiers in the passing game, knowing who needs to win their matchups before the snap, and creating ample opportunity for new players to grow into bigger roles.
The real key will be the top three WRs until Gallup is back in the mix. Lamb is the unquestioned WR1. Jalen Tolbert is having an outstanding rookie camp and probably has a starting job all but locked down. And it looks like Brown will fill out that trio.
So if they have those three and a couple of good backups, probably two of Simi Fehoko, Vasher, and Houston, this may be a viable set of targets for Dak Prescott.
Further, wide receivers are not the only ones who have a role in the passing game. Dalton Schultz makes plays every practice, and is usually the one Prescott looks for when he has to improvise under pressure. We all hope that Tony Pollard gets more involved as a receiver to utilize his skills and talent. Even Ezekiel Elliott was getting into the act with a play that would be very nice to see crop up in the regular season.
Opposing defenses will key in on CeeDee Lamb, and the Cowboys are in position to surprise teams with who they have to step up when Lamb is taken away. They should also look to use any attention their receivers and tight ends are getting to spark the run game, something they hope Tyler Smith provides a boost for. Smith has won and lost his share of battles in the trenches against a deep and talented defensive line, but linebackers and secondary players stand no chance when he gets his hands on them.
Stephen Jones said recently that the plan for the Cowboys is to have Tony Pollard “back here next year”. With such a financial and on-field commitment to Ezekiel Elliott, many expected the Cowboys to increase Pollard’s usage this year before seeing him get a big deal elsewhere. The idea that Pollard could find a more long-term role as a weapon in the passing game for the Cowboys is enticing, and one that instantly raises the ceiling for what this offense could be.
It is no secret that players with a big cap hit get the most opportunity to play around the NFL, but outside of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys don’t have too much tied down in the passing game.
With the Cowboys defense continuing to emphasize turnovers and creating extra possessions on short fields for the offense, Prescott needs receivers that can make explosive plays down the field and score in the red zone. When it’s time for this offense to sustain drives and carry their share though, Elliott and Pollard could be the most valuable options the Cowboys have outside of WR1 CeeDee Lamb.