DISCLAIMER: This post in no way has any relationship to domesticated felines. It is intended as an attempt to identify an unlikely player who is showing more than expected in training camp in a position of need for the Dallas Cowboys. I repeat, this has nothing to do with pet cats in any shape, form, or fashion, because as we all know, I do not have those any more. (Danny Coale, I once again apologize for the goatmouth.)
Gus Johnson, nicknamed Bus in college, went undrafted before the Cowboys signed him at the start of their training camp to fill in after the team placed Ryan Williams on IR.. He has some impressive stats, but they were at Stephen F. Austin University, a FCS school in East Texas. However, there were some who thought he may have been overlooked as a result.
With [H word redacted] issues keeping Darren McFadden sidelined and Lance Dunbar missing the most recent practices as well, Johnson has received increased work along with Lache Seastrunk. (As a side note, Tyler Clutts has also been filling in for some reps, which may be an indication that he is solidifying his roster spot with some surprisingly competent plays, although he is not going to be switched to running back from his fullback position any time soon.) And over the past couple of days in camp, Johnson has started to attract some positive reviews. Bryan Broaddus noticed him, especially in the goal line work on Saturday.
Gus Johnson is catching my eye more than Lache Seastrunk at this point. There are one or two snaps a practice where I am no longer looking down at my roster and wondering who that running back is. Johnson is looking more complete in the snaps he has received -- whether that's carrying the ball, receiving out of the backfield or understanding where he needs to be in the blitz pickup. Johnson has not looked out of place at all.
Our old friend KD Drummond also noticed.
.@fishsports has a great premium piece up on Seastrunk... But I've been 1st in line of all media/pseudo media for Gus Johnson. Watch today.— @KDP10For10 (@KDDrummondNFL) August 9, 2015
And Michael Sisemore tabbed him as one of the early risers in camp.
Lost in the discussion behind Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar, Johnson has put together a string of good practices this week that should give the coaches every confidence in increasing his reps. He's a finisher and it has shown out as of late. He was at his best on Saturday when in the red zone drill. Johnson showed good burst and power, and the ability to lower his pads correctly and get across the goal line. He's got the ability to break tackles and has a good lower body build for the position. If the Cowboys are looking for a red zone back to add to their arsenal, Johnson could be their guy.
Johnson is 5'10" and 215 pounds, and showed excellent strength during the NFL combine with 26 reps in the bench press. During the goal line work on Saturday, he displayed a clear ability to get those coveted "dirty yards", scoring three of the four touchdowns the first team put up in the goal line drills. And at other times, he has shown he can go for longer runs as well, hitting the hole and running hard the way you want to see from a ZBS back. If McFadden does not work out for whatever reason, he may just be a good option for the number two runner. Should McFadden come back and claim the spot he was expected to take on the roster, the Cowboys may try to get Johnson onto the practice squad as a ready replacement if needed during the season.
He also serves as a good illustration of the truth behind the "any back could run behind Dallas' offensive line" meme. When put that way, it clearly is a questionable assertion. But when modified to "any back with sufficient talent that matches the scheme can run behind the Dallas offensive line", then there is a lot more validity. Johnson looks like a player who has those skills so far. He has been a pleasant surprise with his performance, and the fact that the coaches put him with the first team while Seastrunk was running with the twos in the goal line drills shows that they have noticed him. During the Blue and White scrimmage, Randle was back in with the starters, but no one is looking for Johnson to supplant him. He is now solidly in the mix for the number two spot solely on the strength of what he has done so far.
With McFadden not going to be on the field for the first preseason game this week, Johnson is going to have a chance to further demonstrate what he brings to the table. He is a player to watch. There are not going to be as many opportunities for UDFAs to make the 53 man roster this season as in the past. That is clearly a good thing, but Johnson is showing signs that he may just force his way into the conversation when the cuts start. The team is going to be evaluating the running back situation and still could bring in someone from outside, but maybe this new Bus may make that unnecessary.
Not bad for a kid from Gilmer, Texas.