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Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar Could Return “Sooner Than Later”

Dunbar is progressing faster than expected from his injury and might be able to join the team in trainng camp.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In an otherwise forgettable 2015 season, Lance Dunbar proved one of the few highlights for the Dallas Cowboys. The four-year veteran combined for 215 receiving and 67 rushing yards in the first four games of the season, but then suffered a torn ACL, a torn MCL, and a torn patellar tendon during the Week 4 loss to the Saints. He missed the final 12 games of the season and has been working on rehabbing the injury since.

Despite the serious injury and the unclear prognosis for a return, the Cowboys signed Dunbar to a $1.25 million, one-year contract extension in March. There was a lot of interest in Dunbar before that - he took visits to San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago - but the Cowboys ultimately got him to come back for another year.

And now it's looking like their faith in Dunbar's progress from the injury could pay off. Stephen Jones said Monday that Dunbar hasn’t been "totally ruled out" for training camp and that he "may be able to play sooner than later," Charean Williams of The Star-Telegram writes.

"It’s a long year for him, and we want to do things the right way with him. But gosh, I commend him. He’s worked so hard and come so far, so fast – a lot faster than anyone dreamed he could come.

"We’ve also got to do what’s right in his best interest and certainly not jeopardize any of the hard work he’s put into this. But I think we’ve got a great look at what he can for us. I think Tony [Romo] got a good look even though he wasn’t out there with him for a lot of that with what he can do for our football team."

The Cowboys already have three healthy running backs on the roster with Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, and Darius Jackson - and Darren McFadden should be healthy for the start of camp as well. Add Dunbar and you've got a pretty crowded running back room.

No problem, says Jerry Jones, who is just fine with the running back situation, according to Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News.

"We've got the quality there to where if it works itself out to where we keep them all," Jones said, "we'll keep them all. And we'll go short on other positions. They're too good. It's too important. ... We want that kind of depth."

For Dunbar, who just started jogging again in March, it's still going to take a lot of hard work to get back into football shape. But hard work is nothing new for Dunbar, who joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and has been fighting his way onto the roster and the field every year since.

And if everything works out, Dunbar's deal could indeed be one of the NFL's best under-the-radar deals, as ESPN's Field Yates wrote back in March.

"[Dunbar is] a natural hands catcher with good run-after-catch skills, which was part of why he generated interest from multiple teams (Chicago and San Francisco) as a free agent."

"No, Dunbar is not going to be the workhorse back for Dallas (Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris are currently in line for heavier workloads), but he's a neat utility back with a minimal price tag. If he could contribute 50 receptions in 2016, that's excellent value for a back making less than $2 million."

Keep your fingers crossed.