ARLINGTON, Texas – So last week, Darren McFadden had four rushing yards, and Joseph Randle came in and showed a little something behind the backups. Just like that, it seemed like Randle jumped into the lead for the starting job.
Now against the Vikings Saturday night in the so-called "dress rehearsal" game, it was McFadden's turn to flash after a subpar effort from Randle to start the game.
So does McFadden take the lead now? Surely, the Cowboys won't just decide the starter based on who gets the most yards. If so, Gus Johnson or Ben Melena will be starting on Sept. 13 against the Giants because they're going to get all the carries on Thursday vs. Houston.
The Cowboys have to figure this out sooner or later, but if these last two preseason games have shown us anything, it means nothing is really settled.
Personally, what we saw Saturday night is probably the way I would handle this running back situation.
Who says you have to start to be the real difference maker? I think Randle will probably be the Cowboys' opening-day starter, but the role that McFadden will presumably get has proven to be effective.
Look no further than DeMarco Murray back in 2011. He broke Emmitt Smith's single-game rushing record as a rookie against the Rams, running for 253 yards. And he didn't even start the game, relieving Tashard Choice early on.
A few years earlier, Marion Barber made the Pro Bowl in 2007, but wasn't even the regular starter, splitting time with Julius Jones.
It's not about the start, but more about the role. And I think we saw Saturday night how all three of these backs – even Lance Dunbar, who shined on kickoff returns – can have a role here.
Personally, I've tried to temper all excitement about McFadden, a player I've watched closer than anyone when he starred at Arkansas several years ago. While everyone is hoping to get the "D-Mac" of old, there's a reason he hasn't been consistently successful in his career. There's a reason the Raiders let him go, and there's a reason his best offer was relatively cheap for any back at $900,000 this year.
The Cowboys are here to give him a chance, and McFadden showed something here in this game. I don't think he showed them he needs to start, but I think it's more about needing to be here.[embeddedad0]
Let's be honest, if the Cowboys were to sign a veteran back off the street, or even claim a player off waivers that will get cut in the next two weeks, it's probably at McFadden's expense. The Cowboys love what Dunbar gives them – I'm not always sure why – but they also plan on giving Randle plenty of looks.
So if one of these three was getting replaced, I've thought all along it might be McFadden, especially since it took him so long to get back on the field after a pre-camp hamstring injury. If he proved anything against the Vikings, it's that he's still got a nice burst and has plenty of balance when he's shifting through the line.
He might have surprised a few people in this game, but it didn't sound like the Cowboys' coaching staff and front-office personnel was included. Jerry Jones said afterward this was the McFadden he "expected to see all along."
But again, let's not get so excited about four carries for 37 yards. The 9.3-yard average looks great, but we know it was a small sample size. Even his entire preseason work combined together isn't a lot of snaps. And with the last two games, McFadden has seven carries for 41 yards, which is pretty solid.
He'll have a good role for this team, as will Randle.
In all likelihood, we won't see Randle, McFadden or Dunbar again this preseason. So whatever the decision will be, it'll either have to come from more practices, or it's already been made.
But as it stands right now, it doesn't seem like the Cowboys will even have to pick between the two. And it's not Randle or McFadden, but probably a healthy dose of both.
No, it's not the way the Cowboys did it a year ago, but for now, it seems like that's probably the best option they've got.