On July 20th the Dallas Cowboys will have their players report to training camp in beautiful Oxnard, California. Another season presents one more opportunity for the core of this team to finally put the pieces together and bring home another Lombardi Trophy, but before we can even begin to contemplate that type of glory, we must start small. This team has their work cut out for them again, and everything starts in camp this summer.
The second position to watch for on my list consists of the running backs and here are three points of interest.
Can DeMarco Murray Stay Healthy And Contribute?
Entering his third season, Murray also faces pressure to stay on the field and give the Cowboys their first 1,000 yard rusher since Julius Jones. DeMarco has the talent and skill-set to be one of the better running backs in the NFL, but he has to find a way to stay healthy. He has game-breaking ability and if the blocking in front of him can be more consistent, then the Cowboys will see their running game improve.
Running the ball more should help the offense become more of a balanced attack and this starts with Murray. He's the best running back on the roster and we've seen what he is capable of when healthy and the line blocks for him. Nagging injuries could prevent him from ever reaching and maximizing his potential, and that would be a shame because I believe that Murray does have what it takes to be an elite player.
Dallas has had trouble producing statistics in the running game and giving him the ball more in the red zone may help with that. He only has six rushing touchdowns during his brief career, he should get more opportunity to increase those numbers.
This is a big season for Murray, but it's not entirely his fault that the running game is probably at one of the all-time lows in the Cowboys history. If the blocking improves and he stays healthy, expect Murray to have a very good season.
Enter The Rookie For Help
The war room found a supposed gem on draft day with Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle. He fell into the fifth round, but the Cowboys landed a highly productive player who did his thing at a major conference in college. With a similar running style and attributes, Randle looks like he will be the perfect option to have behind Murray. Both are extremely similar running backs, except that Murray is the better athlete and is a whole lot faster.
Regardless, Randle will fit in just fine. This team lacked a true backup running back last year and when Murray went down, so did the running game. The addition of a young running back who can fill in and offer some of the same things as the starter should keep the ground game on track. Randle showed he was durable at Oklahoma State. If he can stay healthy on the NFL level, then his great vision, ability to see running lanes and natural nose for getting into the end zone should make him a very valuable player.
Training camp and the pre-season will be an important time for the young and inexperienced rookie. If he gets a grasp of the offense and can handle his responsibilities within that scheme, then Randle could make an impact right away in his rookie season. The Cowboys needed to draft or sign another back. Now they have the potential in Randle, it's just going to take time to see if that potential grows into something special.
The Battle For The Third Spot
Even with the recent release of Lawrence Vickers, I believe it is highly doubtful the Cowboys carry four running backs this season. But if there were going to be a year they carry four backs, then this may be it. The current key figures in the battle include Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar and Kendial Lawrence. Each player brings a unique skill set and ability to the roster.
Tanner is a guy that I have rooted for since he was an undrafted free agent a few years ago in camp. Perhaps his most memorable moment of his career came in that pre-season in a game in which his helmet was taken off and instead of going down, Tanner kept playing and ran into the end zone while taking on a horde of San Diego Chargers. Due to NFL rules, the play was technically blown dead once his helmet came off, but that moment is the epitome of the type of player Tanner is.
Jerry Jones wants his third running back to play special teams. Tashard Choice couldn't do that a couple of years ago and he was ultimately released because of his inability to do that, but there were other factors to consider in his release. Looking at this current roster, Tanner is the player most likely to thrive in the special teams role that Jones is looking for.
Then there are the two other speedier backs. Dunbar and Lawrence each bring that speed element that our backfield desperately needs to have. Dunbar may have the edge because he has been here for a year, but Lawrence may be the faster and quicker player. From some of the reports coming out of the Organized Team Activities and minicamp, Lawrence was said to have great burst and he can hit the hole hard.
Adding that element into our offense would definitely be something to consider. I've been pressing this team to add more "space and speed" players, so Lawrence fits that criteria I'm looking for. Out of all the new players coming into training camp this year, nobody excites me more than Lawrence. Keep an eye out for him, because he may be the next UDFA gem that makes the team.