34) Will A RB Make A Notable Impression In The Passing Game?

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IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.

Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.

As we count down the days to camp, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.

With 34 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the ability of the running backs to catch out of the backfield.

34) Will One Of The Running Backs Stand Out In The Passing Game?

Former Cowboys running back Herschel Walker, who wore the No. 34 during his tenure in Dallas from 1986-89 and 1996-97, was about as useful as a receiver out of the backfield as any running back could be.

Walker actually led the Cowboys in receiving his first year with the team in 1986, recording 76 catches for 837 yards, recording 100 more receiving yards than rushing yards that season. He once again led the team in receiving a year later, recording 60 catches for 715 yards.

It's highly unlikely any of the Cowboys' running backs surpass Jason Witten or Dez Bryant in any major receiving category, but it is possible one of the running backs make their mark in the passing game this year. The amount they're able to contribute could determine if the Cowboys can find the end zone a little more often.

Murray's demonstrated an ability to be effective out of the backfield, recording exactly four catches in four of his last five games. He also had a seven-catch game against Chicago and averaged 3.5 catches per game last season. His ability to catch out of the backfield has never been questioned, but if he fails to stay on the field for 16 games again, the Cowboys may need another contributor as a receiving back.

Randle was drafted not to be a specialist in the backfield, but an all-around back. He displayed solid hands at Oklahoma State, catching more than 30 passes in each of his first two college seasons. His receiving numbers went down slightly as his rushing attempts skyrocketed his final season, but he still had to be accounted for in the passing game.  

The surprise candidate to make a mark in the receiving game out of the backfield is a player who only has six NFL catches to his name. Lance Dunbar finished with at least 28 catches each of his last three seasons at North Texas and was already noticeable as a pass-catching threat during Organized Team Activities and minicamp.

Any of the backs on the roster behind Murray and Randle could make a difference as receiving threats, including Phillip Tanner, but Dunbar might be the most adept in that category.

Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 34:

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  • Tanner's still wearing the No. 34, which he's had in Dallas since 2011. Fullback Deon Anderson wore it for three years before Tanner.
  • The Cowboys have only had the 34th overall pick one time in the NFL Draft. They took linebacker Jim Price from Auburn in 1963, but he didn't make the active roster.
  • A 14-point fourth quarter sent the Cowboys to overtime with the Saints in Week 16, but a fumble that rolled all the way to the Cowboys' 2-yard line was recovered by New Orleans and led to a field goal for the Saints, giving them 34 points and the win. The Cowboys still controlled their playoff destiny, but lost the following week in Washington.
  • Michael Downs and Cornell Green both sit in fifth place all-time in Cowboys history with 34 interceptions apiece. Mel Renfro has the all-time lead with 52.
  • The most field goals the Cowboys made in a season was 34, all drilled by Richie Cunningham in 1997.
  • The Cowboys' last playoff win came in 2009, when they scored 34 points in the NFC Wild Card Game, beating Philadelphia by 20 points.
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