Ryan Williams Heats Up Cowboys' Running Back Competition

Murray's job is secure, but who will join him on the Cowboys' roster? - Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone on the Dallas staff is saying the running game is going to be more visible this year. The latest free agent signing shows that this is not just paying lip service.

All the talk by the Dallas Cowboys about doing more with the ground attack sounds very familiar. We heard the same thing last year, and then saw the offense wind up relying more and more on Tony Romo's arm, despite DeMarco Murray having the best year of his career.

New playcaller Scott Linehan is making the same promises this year, as is Jason Garrett. But the signing of Ryan Williams, former second-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, indicates that the intent is real.

Now the question becomes which of the backs in camp are going to be on the roster, and how many will the team carry?

This is complicated by the likelihood that Dallas is going to carry a fullback, with veteran Tyler Clutts battling UDFA J.C. Copeland for that spot. That in itself will be fun to watch, with the 5'11" 275 lb. Copeland looking more like an extra center when he lines up.

Even with a fullback on the roster, I think Dallas is going to try and carry four running backs, given the injury history of both Murray and change of pace back Lance Dunbar. Those two can probably be penciled in for the roster. Both had good years, even though Dunbar's was cut short just as we were beginning to see what he was able to bring to the team.

That leaves four primary competitors for two remaining places on the roster: Last year's fifth round pick Joseph Randle, Williams, and UDFAs Ben Malena and Glasco Martin.

Randle is facing a serious challenge. His performance on the field was nothing special in 2013. While the Cowboys have a draft pick invested in him, he is going to have to prove he is better than at least a couple of the new challengers.

Williams is very intriguing. His three years with the Cardinals were nearly obliterated by injuries, first to his knee and then to his shoulder. However, it took very little time for Dallas to pull the trigger on him. Cut on Monday, he was brought in and had what was apparently an impressive workout in front of the entire scouting staff on Saturday, and had a contract within a couple of hours. If he regains his college form, where he averaged well over 100 yards and nearly two touchdowns a game with Virginia Tech in 2009, he could become a key backup/relief player for Murray.

Malena has already gotten some notice during the rookie minicamp, following up what is reported to be a standout performance during the Dallas Days tryouts. Additionally, he has some traits that indicate he could step in for Dunbar, being between Dunbar and the other backs in size. Not quite as flashy, he still is a very good receiver and would allow Dallas to keep the plays that Dunbar would have run should the latter again miss some time. The Cowboys may benefit that Malena was somewhat overlooked because he shared a backfield at Texas A&M with some showoff quarterback now with the Cleveland Browns. He still contributed 808 yards on the ground and 101 receiving.

Martin is the biggest of the backs, weighing 222. He could be valuable as a short yardage specialist. Like Williams, he has an injury history, missing three games his senior season at Baylor and not playing to his full potential when he was in. He still managed seven touchdowns and over 500 yards on a team that also had Lache Seastrunk, a 1,000 yard rusher drafted by the Washington Redskins. He may be playing more for a practice squad spot.

At least one of these players, and possibly two, will be left out when the dust settles. It looks to be an interesting battle already, and things are barely started.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB
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