OXNARD, Calif. – The big, intriguing names have drifted around the conversation about the Cowboys' running backs all offseason long, and they were addressed head-on at the outset of the team's training camp.
And if anyone was wondering, the front office's reasoning for why the Cowboys haven't signed a notable ball carrier this summer – like perhaps Chris Johnson or Ray Rice – is a vote of confidence that the team's current cast of running backs is better than the alternative.
"I think it says something about the guys that we have here," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "Obviously, you look at players, whether it's a Ray Rice or Chris Johnson, someone who has had success – it doesn't necessarily mean that success is going to keep going. There may be a reason, when they've been wildly successful, that they're out there."
Cowboys officials – namely, Stephen Jones and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones – faced several questions Wednesday at the team's introductory press conference, before practice begins Thursday. One of the tallest tasks facing this franchise in 2015 is replacing the 497 touches and 2,486 yards accounted for by DeMarco Murray last fall.
To hear it from them, it's a job that Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden are capable of handling – particularly Randle.
"He has the potential to be the kind of back that would step in there and be a No. 1 back," said Jerry Jones of his third-year running back. "If he were not here, then I wouldn't feel as good as we go into the season about what might happen."
That's not necessarily a knock on McFadden, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract in March. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett lauded the skillset that got McFadden drafted fourth overall in 2008, and Jerry Jones said he has "the potential to be a steady back capable of making significant plays."[embeddedad0]
"I think these guys, when you add potential, they give you some of that same potential, both physically as well as their opportunity and their experience to get us there," he said. "McFadden is an experienced back. Randle is not as experienced, but he's got a chance to get in and use some, I think, very instinctive, natural running back qualities to have us give the position give us everything it can give us."
The decision to part ways with Ryan Williams earlier this week should also lessen the pressure on Lance Dunbar, who projects as the likely candidate to be the team's third running back. Without an established starter like Murray, who accounted for 77 percent of the team's carries in 2014, the Cowboys are hopeful Dunbar can secure a larger role in his third full campaign.
"I can't tell you the times that we'd sit in a meeting on a Monday after Sunday and hear 'We need to get him the ball more. He needs to touch the ball more,'" Jerry Jones said.
Of course, player acquisition is 365 days a year, as Cowboys officials are fond of saying. The hope for training camp is that the team can answer its running back question in-house. But despite his vote of confidence, Stephen Jones allowed that the Cowboys have the option to address the issue as the season approaches – if they need to.
"We're very convinced that the right way to go is through the draft with young football players, and at the end if we need to make a move to make our team better and we feel like we're not where we need to be at a certain place, then I could certainly see us making a move late in camp or right before the start of the season," he said.
The questions are laid out, much the way they have been for the past five months. Rather than speculating, though, the Cowboys can now begin answering them on the practice and playing fields.