In his post looking at Murray's future with the Dallas Cowboys, Dave asked an interesting question regarding the choice the team is going to have to answer this year.
Suppose his 2014 season is similar to 2013, then do the Cowboys re-sign him, or extend him sometime mid-season? That's the dilemma that you face with running backs that you don't face with other players. If you had a young receiver, or a young lineman, or a young linebacker putting up killer stats and making Pro Bowls, it's a no-brainer to re-sign or extend them. But running backs are notorious for burning out quickly.
On the face of it, many of us believe that you can find a second-day pick to play running back in the NFL so you don't give a back a second contract unless he has a nickname like "All Day" or "Shady". It just makes sense that you do not invest heavily in a guy whose body takes the type of pounding that a running back's does, especially when you can get 80-85% of the productivity from someone on a rookie contract. It was with this in mind that the Dallas Cowboys selected Joseph Randle in the fifth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The only question is "Will Randle be ready to be 'The Man'?"
Over at the mothership, former pro-scout-turned-writer Bryan Broaddus took a look at what the future holds for the former Oklahoma State Cowboy. As Bryan pointed out, drafting Randle was not so much about the 2013 season as it was about being ready when Murray's contract expired or when the feature back's history of injuries once again reared its head. To that end, Randle gained his first starting experience when DeMarco Murray went down for two games this past season. In that two-game stretch Joseph Randle carried a total of 33 times for the Cowboys.
While he has shown the potential of being a primary back running the ball, perhaps Randle's best asset is his ability as a pass catcher out of the backfield. That is a strength that will fit right in with how new play caller Scott Linehan likes to use his running backs.
I remember studying Randle and coming away with how impressed I was watching him catch the ball. I thought when I saw him live in camp, this was his greatest strength. - Bryan Broaddus
Still, all is not rainbows and unicorns for Randle's future, there are areas where he needs to make significant progress if he is going to step up and allow the Cowboys to move on from Murray. One thing that Murray does well that Randle has yet to master is providing protection for the passer.
This is where Murray has a huge advantage and it’s rare when he comes off the field. What Randle has to show in the upcoming camps that he is assignment sound in order to get more opportunities but the tools are there to have success.
Randle also needs to work on learning to run behind the line in the Cowboys offense. Instead of just taking the rock and hitting the assigned hole, Randle will have to learn to read what is taking place in front of him, identify the hole, and find his way through it. He is going to have to learn to let things develop rather than rushing straight ahead like a bull in a china shop. For that he has the opportunity to study the way the man he is intended to replace handles the job.
An outstanding example for him in this rookie year, was playing behind Murray and how he was able to navigate in this zone running scheme.
For Randle, the ability to take the next steps are within his abilities. He can be the complete back that Jason Garrett & Co. want, but it will take diligent effort and coaching. Having a year in the scheme already will work to his advantage. Now that he has the experience, it is time to refine his game.
That is the challenge that Dallas RBs coach Gary Brown will face during the 2014 offseason and campaign. With Murray's rookie deal entering its last year, Joseph Randle will be given opportunities to show the Cowboys staff and front office that he can be the complete back that the team needs for its offense to function effectively. He has the tools to become that player, but he is going to have to put in the effort to progress beyond the potential. If Randle does that, he will allow the Dallas Cowboys to avoid being forced to invest in a significant contract that would keep an injury-prone player at a position known for taking a huge toll on the bodies of those who play the game. That in itself would be a tremendous move forward for the Dallas front office.
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