*With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group for the home team in a seven-part series, continuing Tuesday with the Running Backs. *
Big Issue: There isn't much of a question in terms of personnel or the depth chart after the emergence of DeMarco Murray last season and his overtaking of the starting job from Felix Jones. The biggest question now centers on Murray and his ability to take his game to that next level. Is he a good running back who has the ability to produce a big game here and there, or is he ready to become one of the NFL's next great tailbacks? That will likely hinge on Murray staying healthy, which was another question mark for him when he entered the league last year. In fact, it's still a concern after he started the 2011 season with a hamstring injury and then missed the last month of the schedule with a broken ankle. In between those two injuries, Murray was just short of phenomenal, even setting the Cowboys' single-game rushing record with 253 yards against the Rams. Murray also did a nice job of closing games out with tough running yards against Miami and Washington.
This is a different offense with DeMarco Murray as the starter as opposed to Felix Jones. Murray doesn't have the burst of Jones but he has better vision and feel for how to get through holes when plays are not blocked clean. Last season Murray was paired with fullback Tony Fiammetta, who is a much different player than Lawrence Vickers, his lead blocker now. Vickers is more of a track blocker where Fiammetta was able to adjust better when there was a breakdown in the blocking scheme up front. Vickers will run his path and hurt who is in that path. Murray and Fiammetta were a good team together because they saw the play develop the same and were able to adjust. Will be interesting to see how quickly Murray and Vickers work together. As far as Felix Jones, who is in his last year of his contract, the question I have is would the front office release Jones if they felt comfortable with Phillip Tanner as the backup and, say, Lance Dunbar as the third? Right now, the third spot is Tanner's, although the only question I would have about Dunbar is his height as a blitz pick up guy. He gives effort for the job and is not afraid, but will he show enough in camp to make their decision tougher to release him? -Bryan Broaddus
Rookie Watch: The player who drew the most attention during the summer practices from the running back position was local standout Lance Dunbar. The former North Texas tailback might be a bit undersized (5-8, 191) but he did show some impressive athleticism when given the opportunity. But with no contact during these practices, it's tough to gauge what a running back can offer until he gets into the grind. Dunbar will likely give Tanner a fight for that third job. If he can out-perform Tanner on special teams, it would give him an obvious boost.
Don't Forget About …Felix Jones. It's hard to imagine a first-round pick and last year's starter would be in a forgotten role, but after Murray exploded onto the scene in 2011, it seems the focus has centered on him this season, and rightfully so. There has been some talk about the third-tailback battle between Tanner and Dunbar so it has somewhat left Jones in no-man's land as the second back. It's still an important position, especially with Murray's injury history. Jones hasn't relinquished the starting spot just yet, but it's likely Murray will get the bulk of the carries. Jones should still have a role as a third-down back and possibly on kickoff returns as well.
DeMarco Murray –Is he ready for NFL stardom or will he be like Julius Jones and never live up to those lofty expectations he created as a rookie? Now is the time to find out.
Felix Jones –The Cowboys need that game-breaking player Jones flashed early in his career. He has just three touchdowns in the last two seasons.
Phillip Tanner –No longer the local feel-good story who played so well last year that he forced the Cowboys to keep him. Now he's got a fight on his hands with Lance Dunbar, a Phillip Tanner 2.0.
Lance Dunbar –Similar situation as Tanner last year. Dunbar was impressive and has superior quickness and speed. It'll be interesting to see how he holds up when the hitting starts.
Darrell Scott –Overshadowed by Dunbar, but he also has turned a few heads. An accomplished back in college, he will need some impressive plays in the preseason.
Lawrence Vickers (FB) –The Cowboys think he's a more complete fullback than Tony Fiammetta, who was good last season. Vickers is a no-nonsense player who could possibly develop into a leadership role.
Shaun Chapas (FB) –The signing of Vickers likely tells us what the club thinks of Chapas' potential, but a year in the weight room might prove to be beneficial for last season's seventh-round pick.
Jamize Olawale(FB) –An undrafted player from North Texas like Dunbar, Olawale must be a special teams demon to get a chance.