FRISCO, Texas -- Everything is lined up for a massive Tony Pollard season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2023. The 26-year-old earned his first Pro Bowl selection after the 2022 season because of a career-high 1,378 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns. He topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time, and 75% of his scoring was on the ground with nine rushing touchdowns.
Despite suffering a fractured fibula in the Cowboys' season-ending NFC divisional round playoff defeat at the San Francisco 49ers in January, Pollard is ready to roll for Dallas' 2023 season opener on "Sunday Night Football" against the New York Giants as well as the entire year as a team's primary running back for the first time since his high school days.
"Yeah, I'm very excited, ready for the challenge and ready to be the lead back, so I can show what I can do," Pollard said Wednesday after practice, declaring his gruesome postseason injury is a thing of the past. "I'm good, physically, mentally, emotionally. I'm good. I'm ready to go."
Pollard can't be blamed for champing at the bit to be a backfield's go-to ball-carrier. He split time in college in Memphis with former Rams running back Darrell Henderson and Packers practice squad running back Patrick Taylor. He spent his first four seasons in the NFL (2019-2022) as Ezekiel Elliott's backup after being selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. After Pollard's 5.9 yards per touch led the NFL among players with at least 200 touches in 2022 while Elliott's 3.9 yards per touch was dead last in the league among players with at least 200 touches last season, it was clear 2023 needed to be Tony Time in Dallas. Now that Elliott has been released and signed with the New England Patriots, Pollard knows what comes next.
"A lot of opportunities, a lot of touches, a lot of involvement in the game, and I'm just ready to make an impact from a physical standpoint," Pollard said. "I'm not exactly sure [about his touches total for 2023]. I can't really put a number on it, but I'm pretty sure it will be an increased volume. So whatever they give me, I got it."
New Cowboys offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer echoed Pollard's sentiments about his readiness to assume the mantle of Dallas' lead running back.
"Tony is ready to running back number one, he's ready to be the guy," Schottenheimer. "There is nothing we will shy away from on a scheme standpoint with him. Like everybody, there are going to be things he's more comfortable doing, but I have zero concerns about his body type with anything we're doing. I just love the explosive playmaker he is. I love the way he works in practice. There's a quiet confidence about him that you feel. You also feel his speed whether he's running a toss play toward the sideline or a running a route, you feel his speed. It's real. I think there's no question in my he's ready for this role."
The 26-year-old totaled a career-high 232 touches in 2022, a figure Elliott has topped in every year of his career. The fourth overall pick from the 2016 NFL Draft eclipsed 250 touches in six of his seven NFL seasons with the Cowboys, and Zeke missed that threshold in 2022 because of Pollard's emergence and his decline. Even though the two battled for opportunities in the same backfield the last four years, Dallas' new lead back appreciates the many lessons from his predecessor.
"Just learning how to take care of your body, learning how to read defenses, figure things out on the fly and just being able to adjust to different things that the defense throws at you," Pollard said when asked what he took from watching Elliott.
One of Pollard's perceived weaknesses and Elliott's perceived strengths, through the 2022 season, was their blocking abilities. In the Cowboys' revamped "" offense in head coach Mike McCarthy's first season, the running back position will assume more blocking responsibilities in pass protection. That's something Pollard is fully embracing. He needs to ahead of the team's Week 1 showdown with the Giants, a team whose 43.9% blitz rate led the NFL in 2022.
"Getting out into the routes and getting out into your concept, it's a little more [nuanced], you have a certain gap that they want you to go through and just to keep everything together with the [offensive] line," Pollard said. "Cut on the film, I got plenty of film picking up blocks, picking up pressure."
A critical component of Pollard starting the 2023 season fully healthy and ready to immediately assume "lead back" duties is his rehabilitation efforts during the summer this offseason. Those efforts took shape in the form of many hours at The Star, the Cowboys facility in Frisco, Texas, side-by-side with Britt Brown, Dallas' associate athletic trainer and director of rehabilitation. Brown enters his 30th season as an NFL athletic trainer in 2023 as well as his 26th with the Cowboys.
"Being up here working with him on the bands, in the middle of the heat, blazing sun, running sprints, running metabolics, just doing a lot of different things," Pollard said when asked about his recovery plan.
All of that work was not only so Pollard could be healthy but so he could thrive as the Cowboys' RB1. "More work, conditioning, a lot of conditioning and more work on endurance and working on my stamina being able to be in there for a little while longer. Just trying to make sure I'm still explosive, have all my power and things like that [deep into ball games]," Pollard said.
After all that work and sitting out of preseason play, Pollard is ready for go time on Sunday night against the Giants, appreciative of his ability to once again play football for the Silver and Blue.
"Yeah, taking a hit won't hurt me," Pollard said, expressing his desire to play real football again. "I'm blessed to be in this position. I'm grateful for everything that I have that I worked for, for the opportunities. Nothing is promised. The next practice, the next game, none of it is promised."