Elliott near debut, Dunbar back as Dallas backfield deepens
FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott appears set for his preseason debut at Seattle after the running back taken fourth overall by the Cowboys missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury.
Lance Dunbar was cleared medically this week following major knee surgery last year, and free agent Alfred Morris is shaping up as a solid insurance policy.
The Dallas running game looks deep behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, and that’s without a mention of last year’s leading rusher, Darren McFadden. He’s been out nearly three months after breaking an elbow in a household accident.
Once McFadden comes back, who knows how many carries there will be for him coming off his second career 1,000-yard season.
“I think a lot of people made a big deal about, we have so many running backs,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You can never have that many running backs. We’ve found that out in the past.”
Like last year, when the Cowboys were fortunate to land a productive McFadden after letting 2014 NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray go to NFC East rival Philadelphia in free agency. And Dallas didn’t just hand the ball to the fourth overall pick from 2008, instead letting Murray’s backup, Joseph Randle, have the lead job for six games.
When Randle injured his back and McFadden grabbed the lead role, Dallas had a carousel of backups after releasing Randle. The Cowboys were lucky McFadden made it through relatively healthy for one of the few times in his career.
That’s where Morris comes in. A two-time Pro Bowl pick in Washington, he’s the likely No. 2 behind Elliott for the regular-season opener Sept. 11 at home against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys, who drafted another running in the sixth round in Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson, essentially declared Elliott the starter by being ultra conservative with his hamstring in camp.
“I don’t know my role,” said Morris, who had 2,888 yards his first two seasons compared to 1,825 the past two. “Whatever it is, whether it’s two plays, 100 plays, it really doesn’t matter. I have to make the most of each one. And that’s what I’m doing.”
Elliott was the second-leading rusher in Ohio State history and scored four touchdowns for the Buckeyes in the championship game at the home of the Cowboys following the 2014 season. He was drafted higher than Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith.
Therefore, Morris doesn’t see it as much of an issue that Elliott missed the better part of three weeks.
“I said in interviews, like, way a while ago, he’s way ahead of where I was as a rookie,” Morris said. “I think he’ll have a good showing out there versus the Seahawks. I’m sure looking forward to seeing him get out there. He hasn’t had his preseason debut yet, so it should be a fun one for him.”
Garrett isn’t ready to say Elliott will play on Thursday night, but did say the 21-year-old made it through practice Monday with no issues. Elliott wasn’t available in the locker room when it was open to reporters.
“It’s important for all players to practice and get their work in. That’s what we would like for everybody on our team regardless if they’re a first-year player or have played for 15 years,” Garrett said. “He’s done a really good job with his rehab getting himself back, staying engaged with the team.”
Dunbar’s been doing that since last October, when he tore two ligaments and the patellar tendon in his left knee while returning a kickoff at New Orleans. The loss of his versatility was an underrated reason the offense struggled while also missing quarterback Tony Romo (twice-broken collarbone) and receiver Dez Bryant (broken foot).
While he’s a ways from being cleared to play in a game, Dunbar is doing individual work at practice.
“We had to be very deliberate in saying, let’s keep him out,” Garrett said. “Now we feel like it’s the right time to bring him back. We’re excited to have him back. He’s an awfully good football player.”
NOTES: DT Tyrone Crawford is being evaluated for a concussion after hitting his head during practice Sunday. It was the first indoor practice for the Cowboys at their new facility. ... DE Charles Tapper (back), DE Shaneil Jenkins (hamstring) and CB Orlando Scandrick (rest) didn’t practice Monday.
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