With all the excitement about Lance Dunbar becoming the Dallas Cowboys' version of Darren Sproles, I thought it fitting to look at Darren Sproles career arc and compare it not only to Dunbar's career but also DeMarco Murray's.
One point needs to be made straight away, which I will back up with further argument. Darren Sproles didn't just burst into the league as an obvious space player/line backer's worst nightmare-- he didn't arrive with that kind of fanfare. He wasn't always known to be such a threat catching the ball, either.
Sproles did catch some passes at Kansas State, but not nearly as many as Dunbar or Murray. Sproles had about 600 yards receiving in four years of college ball.
Dunbar and Murray racked up 1033 and 1500 receiving yards, respectively. Yes, Murray had the most receiving yards of the three. He holds the Yards from Scrimmage record for the University of Oklahoma to this day.
So Sproles wasn't immediately utilized for his receiving ability. The Charger's former coach, Norv Turner, who runs the same scheme as Garrett, drafted him.
Sproles only had 87 receptions in his first four years under Turner. In his last two years in San Diego, Turner was more in-tune to his abilities, resulting in 45 receptions in 2009 and 59 in 2010. But then they let him go.
In the two years since--while in New Orleans--Sproles has 161 receptions for 1375 yards. He has been an absolute nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators in Payton's system. And he contributes plenty on the ground as well. He has 847 yards rushing during that time for a yards-from-scrimmage total of 2,222 in two years.
This is important because it shows the difference between the system that Garrett runs (same as San Diego during Sproles time there) and the west coast-influenced system that Sean Peyton has devised.
Turner had Sproles there with him for five years and never fully utilized his abilities. But the second Sproles hit the Saints, Payton had a plan for him that involved far more receptions than runs.
Payton's scheme was built for a guy like Sproles, so it was easier for him to see the huge potential of this player.
But the Coryell-Turner-Garret system is a very different thing. The emphasis is on timing patterns and attacking vertically with great receivers and a pass-catching tight end. Nothing wrong with that, except that it ignores the potential of exploiting line backers by getting tons of cheap yards on passes to backs-a hallmark of the west coast attack that creates manageable downs and distances and extends drives.
Sproles had to get away from Turner and his system to fully reach his potential. So what does that say about the prospects of Dunbar or Murray in Garrett's scheme?
Callahan is calling the plays, but will he have the kind of influence that is needed in the actual game planning? He has a west coast background and threw tons of passes to his back, Charlie Garner, when he coached in Oakland. There is little doubt that he sees the value of doing this. He had Tim Brown and Jerry Rice on that squad and he still got Garner about 900 yards receiving in 2002. He gets it. His offense led the league and went to the Super Bowl.
But is Garrett going to mess all of this up with his stubborn insistence on sticking with his old way of doing things? When we hear time and again from players that "this is still Garrett's offense" does that mean we are going to ignore the potential of Murray and Dunbar as prolific receivers in favor of more passes to Witten, who doesn't run away from anyone anymore?
I'm as excited as anyone about the potential for Dunbar to be a "space Cowboy" or "the next Daren Sproles", but Garrett is going to have to let this happen.
And the other piece is: Why aren't people talking more about Murray's potential to do this? The guy caught 1500 yards of passes in college, averaging 10 yards a reception and now he's averaging 7.1 yards a reception in the pro's.
You know what's wrong with averaging seven yards every time you zip a little pass to a back?