Eatman: Even When Zeke Returns, Cowboys Must Find Role For Morris

ARLINGTON, Texas – Missing an entire training camp with an injury is tough enough to come back from. Having to do that, plus beat out a veteran – just for the backup spot – seems like a daunting task.

But after two preseason games, that's exactly what Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar are both facing. Because one thing is rather clear:

Alfred Morris is on this football team. And better yet, he needs a significant role, too.

Yeah, I know we're all waiting to see what Ezekiel Elliott will do, and next week's matchup with the Seahawks will provide a great test. And no, I'm not suggesting Morris should be the starter for this year.

But he should be the starter for next week's game. Morris has done everything that has been asked of him – and more. To me, he's starting next week for a series or so, and then Elliott comes in for a half.

That's just how I would do it. I'd make the rookie come in and take the job away from someone who has clearly grabbed the position by the horns.

Again, Elliott doesn't need to worry. He's the No. 4 overall pick and he's going to play, and play a lot, when he's fully healthy.

But for those who wondered just what kind of role Morris would have (And note, I'm taking a break from this column to raise both hands because I wasn't sure at all that Morris would fit in), he's proving  us all wrong.

In Friday night's 41-14 win over the Dolphins, Morris put up some impressive numbers in one half, rushing for 85 yards on 13 attempts (6.5 average). His longest run was just 20 yards, although he had another 20-yard touchdown run called back because of a procedure penalty.

[embeddedad0]On both runs to the end zone, Morris juked, cut, alluded, bounced and plunged – just about everything to get into the end zone without any of it looking rather pretty. Then again, who needs a pretty running back? Jason Garrett's definition of "dirty yards" is exactly what Morris all about.

What's so great about Morris is that … nothing is great. He's just good at a lot of things. He's a good inside runner, but not with a ton of power. He's got quick feet, but obviously not great speed. He's not a pass-catcher and he's not a great blocker.

But he's just good. And sometimes good is great, especially for what will eventually be a backup role.

To me, from what I've noticed about Morris in the few months he's been with the Cowboys, is how different he is from other players. And by different, it's certainly refreshing. His perspective is unlike other players.

A sixth-round pick of the Redskins in 2012 out of Florida Atlantic, Morris went to Washington just hoping he could make the Redskins' practice squad. He started in Week 1. Once he won the job, Morris admitted he was just trying to keep the position and was so afraid someone might take it. Instead, he rushed for over 1,600 yards and made the Pro Bowl. And then made it again.

That feeling of never taking things for granted is probably the reason he still drives the only car he's ever owned – a 1991 Mazda 626. That's right, five years into the NFL and he's still driving a car 25 years old, just two years younger than him.

Once in training camp, a reporter asked him about taking advantage of McFadden and Dunbar, and then Elliott, all being out with injury. Instead of acknowledging the extra reps, Morris corrected the reporter.

"No, I want them to come back, soon. When they come back, it'll be better competition. And competition makes us better."

And if you're thinking that's just lip service, with this guy it isn't. Morris is one of those happy-go-lucky players who doesn't seem worried about too many things he can't control. Let's not mistake that for someone who isn't serious about his craft, though.

I remember back in the summer he told me that he's not a complete running back yet. He said he needs to get better as a receiver and blocker. But, he added that he signed with Dallas to get the opportunity to do just that.

Now, even Morris couldn't have known three tailbacks would be out for most of camp and he'd be left, along with rookie Darius Jackson, to get nearly every rep. He has caught the ball a little better, although he had a drop on the first offensive series.

He'll probably never develop into a great pass-catcher and don't look for him to blow anyone up like a fullback. But at this point in his career, Morris has shown that's he pretty good when he runs the football.

So good that the Cowboys must find a role for him, regardless of what the rest of the running back depth chart looks like.  

 

Take a look at some of the action happening before the Cowboys face the Dolphins at AT&T Stadium.

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