The Cowboys‘ answer to recent injuries at wide receiver ahead of the 2022 NFL season? A running back. With starting wideout Michael Gallup and new reserves Jalen Tolbert and James Washington all recovering from separate ailments, Tony Pollard has been taking reps at receiver this offseason, and he will continue to do so at mandatory minicamp this week. Not only that, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but Ezekiel Elliott’s backup is also tabbed for a larger role in the backfield this year.
Practicing at wide receiver is nothing new for the 25-year-old Pollard, who originally played the position at Memphis before the Cowboys drafted him in 2019. Dallas also touted his reps as a slot receiver ahead of the 2021 season, though he ended up taking just 58 total snaps from that spot in games, per TruMedia, serving more as a decoy when lined up out of the backfield.
His practice out wide could mean more this offseason, however, considering the transition that’s occurring at receiver. While quarterback Dak Prescott still has some of his top targets in Gallup, CeeDee Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz, it’s possible Gallup will not be fully recovered from his 2021 ACL tear by the start of the season. And both Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson Jr., two of the team’s top pass catchers last year, are playing elsewhere. Pollard, therefore, could very well be more valuable as a safety valve for Prescott out of the backfield, where he “looks very natural,” coach Mike McCarthy told reporters this offseason.
And then there’s Pollard’s desire to see more touches in the first place. Entering a contract year, the running back was explicitly informed he’ll have a bigger offensive role after the 2021 season, per Clarence Hill Jr., telling the Star-Telegram that he’s “open to anything … on the field,” whether that means more routes as a slot receiver or more traditional carries in relief of Elliott. Despite playing just over 30 percent of Dallas’ offensive snaps in 2021, the former fourth-round draft pick topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage as a change-of-pace complement to Elliott, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and logging a career-high 39 catches.