A blow to the Dallas Cowboys backfield.
The team announced Wednesday that buzzed-about backup running back Rico Dowdle will be placed on injured reserve with a hip injury, ending his 2021 season.
NFL rules dictate players must sit out the year if not on the 53-man roster for one day before being sent to IR. Dallas is scheduled to pare down from 80 players and form its final roster on Aug. 31.
To reach the latest roster limit, the Cowboys on Tuesday cut kicker Liram Hajrullahu after previously moving four players — wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, safeties Malik Hooker and Israel Mukuamu, and DT Carlos Watkins — to the reserve/COVID-19 list.
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Refresher on Dowdle
The 6-foot, 215-pound back joined the Cowboys in 2020 as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina. He appeared in 15 games as a rookie, primarily on special teams, notching seven carries for 24 yards.
Dowdle returned this year as the presumptive No. 3 option behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. He seemed to have the job sewn up, leading the club in preseason carries (24) and yards (99) — and adding 26 receiving yards on four catches — across three exhibition contests.
“He just hits it and he goes 100 miles per hour and I think the big thing he’s done this preseason and through last year is he developed some of the pass protection elements that people kind of overlook and then the ball catching,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said on Aug. 19, via beat reporter Brianna Dix.
Dowdle’s best performance this summer came in the Hall of Fame Game loss to Pittsburgh, during which the 23-year-old averaged 5.4 yards per carry, buoyed by a 25-yard scamper, and made one particular grab that was highlighted by the official Cowboys website.
What is it about the Steelers that brings out the best in Rico Dowdle? He had a big kickoff return last year in a game with Pittsburgh and Thursday night, he led the team with 43 yards on eight carries. But his play to me was a catch over the middle for 12 yards. He was lined out right and caught a pass over the middle. That makes me think Kellen Moore is planning on using either Zeke and/or Tony Pollard on more plays like that. And yes, while Dowdle did a good job there, it can get even better with those first two backs.
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While crummy news for Dowdle, the Cowboys certainly can withstand his loss. Elliott, highly motivated following a career-worst 2020, is locked into no-doubt workhorse duties while Pollard is slated for significant pass-catching work.
“It’s tough. Just a little adversity for him,” Elliott said of Dowdle’s injury, per Dix. “He made a lot of strides coming off his rookie year and I think that is something to be proud of.”
Behind the Big Two on the current depth chart are rookie UDFAs Brenden Knox and JaQuan Hardy, whose claim to fame is a brief segment on Hard Knocks. Unsurprisingly, ESPN’s Todd Archer believes the Cowboys “need a new No. 3 back with some special teams’ skills.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL