IRVING, Texas – Lance Dunbar knows what the Cowboys need from him.
After spending the early portion of the season on the practice squad, the former North Texas running back joined the 53-man roster Monday morning to be a key addition on special teams.
"They just want somebody to make plays and get past the 20," Dunbar said. "I think I can do that, use my speed, use my burst, my vision, and hopefully make plays on special teams. I played safety in high school, so I can tackle."
Dunbar said he will be involved in all phases of special teams. He said after signing his contract he noticed the depth chart listed him as the starting gunner, but he can't be sure about his role in the return game until that portion of special teams is installed in the game plan later in the week.
Though he's not sure if or when he'll be starting as a returner, he said he's had more experience in his playing career as a kick returner than a punt returner.
Felix Jones has returned every kick this season for the Cowboys, who rank 25th in the league in kickoff return average at 21.5 yards. Jones' biggest gaffe occurred against Seattle, when he fumbled the opening kickoff. After the first five Chicago kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, Jones returned the final two to the Dallas 15-yard line and 17-yard line, respectively.
Head coach Jason Garrett said he's evaluating the speed on the Cowboys' kickoff return unit, and he wants a player who can make things happen and be dynamic. Whether or not Dunbar starts as a returner, he'll provide the Cowboys a speedy coverage player they lacked after cutting defensive back LeQuan Lewis.
"He's shown that he can be a good gunner and make some plays," Garrett said. "He's very aggressive and active. So we want to give him a chance to do that. He's also done some returning for us as well, so just wherever he's needed. We'll give him some work in practice at the different spots and see how he responds."
Dunbar, who rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys' final preseason game, was the only practice squad player who flew to New Jersey with the team to face the Giants. Dunbar figured to be added to the 53-man roster with tight end Jason Witten doubtful for the opener, but Witten ended up starting, and Dunbar was never activated. Four weeks later, Dunbar's dream came true.
"They gave me a chance," Dunbar said. "I've got to come out and play and show them what I can do."