ARLINGTON, Texas – It'd be understandable to have doubts when hearing the talk about getting Lance Dunbar involved in the Dallas offense – the production had never materialized before.
But one game into the 2015 season, there sits Dunbar as the Dallas Cowboys' leading receiver. On a night that was somewhat lacking in big plays, the diminutive fourth-year running back finished with eight receptions for 70 yards.
"It's a big thing for me, because I played good with my opportunity – I had an opportunity and I took advantage of it. So hopefully I can get more opportunities," Dunbar said. "But other than that, I'm just here trying to do my job and help my team win."
He did his job beautifully on the Cowboys' final, game-winning possession, with the Cowboys trailing, 26-20. Backed up on his own 28 with 1:34 to play, Tony Romo found Dunbar for a 24-yard gain, into New York territory.
The very next snap went to Dunbar again, and he skirted upfield for 16 yards to the Giants' 32-yard line – 40 yards in 40 seconds.
"It felt great, you know – it shows how much trust they have in me," Dunbar said. "So I've just got to keep going hard, keep practicing and keep that trust so I can go out and make plays like I did today."
It was the type of performance the Cowboys have envisioned for Dunbar, as owner/general manager Jerry Jones has admitted he'd like to see Dunbar more involved. With just 47 offensive touches all of last season, Dunbar is already on his way toward shattering those numbers.
"He's been a guy – anyone who follows our football team – any time we've given him opportunities in the past, he seems to be productive with them," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "Either as a runner or as a receiver – coming out of the back field and also when he lines up outside, he's just a darn good football player."
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the performance is exactly the plan he'd had in mind for Dunbar. He was the only of the Cowboys' three running backs not to notch a carry, but he lined up all over the offensive formation in putting together his big night.
"Yeah, I think it was pretty right on with him," Linehan said. "Lance has a big role for us as a matchup guy. We talk about him as a pass receiver because we don't run the ball as much with him, but we have 100 percent confidence that he can."
Linehan himself was quick to admit that the dominant presence of DeMarco Murray limited the ability to involve Dunbar last fall. With Murray gone, however, the Cowboys will need to account for those touches somehow.
After a performance like that, Dunbar has certainly made the argument to maintain that larger role going forward.
"He hasn't played as much, especially the first half of the year last year because we played primarily one back," Linehan said. "This year, I think there's going to be a little more distinct roles for guys."