OXNARD, Calif. – Gus Johnson spent his time working out at a Katy, Texas, performance center in the month between his minicamp tryout with the Cowboys in late June and the day the team offered him a contract just before training camp.
Johnson was riding with his agent to lunch when the call came. The Cowboys were releasing Ryan Williams and needed another running back on their 90-man roster.
"Every time I think about it," he said, "it's still just incredible to me that I found my way here."
Johnson stuffed some T-shirts and shorts into a suitcase and soon was on his way to Oxnard.
A couple weeks later, with the Cowboys' top three running backs dealing with injuries, Johnson – undrafted out of Stephen F. Austin – could be in line for major carries in Thursday night's preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers.
"I'm kind of expecting to get those guys their rest," Johnson said. "The coaches know what they can do. I'm a rookie, so they need to find out what I can do."
Wearing No. 37, Johnson has gotten first-team offensive reps the last two practices since Joseph Randle strained his oblique. The Cowboys already have been without Lance Dunbar (ankle) since last Wednesday and Darren McFadden (hamstring) remains on the Active Physically Unable to Perform list for now.
Randle got back into individual drills Tuesday but sat out team drills again.
"I would love to play (Thursday), but that's not up to me," he said.
There's a chance all three will return to practice soon after Thursday's game. In the short term, it's uncertain how head coach Jason Garrett plans to rotate his running backs against the Chargers.
Regardless, Johnson should get his chances. For a three-day tryout who didn't sign until the eve of camp, he has looked solid as a runner and pass protector in practice.
"We had limited numbers at that position (before camp) and we wanted to make sure that we had guys come in, both in the offseason and certainly in a couple of different situations and work themselves out if we needed to sign a couple guys," Garrett recalled. "So we went ahead and did that during the offseason, got some looks at Gus and he did a good job. He's done a good job up to this point in training camp."
How does Johnson describe his skills?[embeddedad0]
"I like to get the dirty yards, put my head down," the 215-pounder said. "I'm not afraid of contact. I've always been a bigger kid, so contact is something I kind of like."
With the veteran backs getting healthier, Thursday could be Johnson's biggest opportunity of the entire preseason. Garrett, former a rookie free agent in 1989, says it's important for young players not to press.
"The biggest that a young player needs to understand is, don't look around," he said. "Don't count the depth chart, don't figure out the numbers. Play. Play to the best of your ability. That's all we're asking you to do."
Johnson seems to have that mentality.
"You never know what's going to come of it or how anything's going to play out," he said. "You've just got to wake up every day, go on about your business and do what you do."