Right next to "when are they going to sign a safety," one of the most common questions we are asked here at training camp is which young players are impressing.
To me, the most impressive rookie at this point has been undrafted running back Phillip Tanner. He's standing out among a lot of first-year players, including Tyron Smith, who has had his share of both wins and losses against pass rushers but whose head is still spinning a bit.
Tanner is a speedy, one-cut back, a 6-0, 214-pounder from Middle Tennessee State, where he rushed for 928 yards on 160 carries as a senior last year, with 13 touchdowns. The 22-year old grew up in Dallas, making him eligible for the annual workout of local prospects the team holds before every draft. After catching the eye of Cowboys scouts, he went undrafted.
"Me and coach Peete, we bonded, we talked a lot, but you never can be comfortable until you sign your name on that dotted line," Tanner said. "All I could do was come out and show them what I could do. Even at Dallas Day, it was kind of limited in what we could do, so all I could do was take advantage of the opportunity."
As a kid he worked the concessions stands at Texas Stadium selling hot dogs, pizza and nachos, making it almost inevitable that he would choose a training camp shot with the Cowboys over the other four or five teams he said were attempting to sign him last week.
"Denver called," Tanner said. "St. Louis, Seattle, Minnesota called. But this was where I wanted to be. It's where I always wanted to be and it's just an honor to be able to walk out onto the field."
Along with practice squad veteran Lonyae Miller, Tanner is getting a lot of reps in these Alamodome practices because Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray are hurt.
Behind the top three backs, special teams will have to be the ticket onto the squad for an outsider like Tanner. He does have return ability, but his work on the coverage units will be just as important.