IRVING, Texas –The growing excitement over undrafted rookie running back Jamize Olawale has a familiar ring to it. This time last year, there was another guy just like him, trying to prove he deserved a spot.
Were it not for a hand injury, Phillip Tanner would almost certainly be getting a bulk of the carries that have gone to Olawale in these preseason games. While he recovers, hopefully in time for the preseason finale, Tanner is working to stay positive.
"I try to tell myself to focus on the things that I can control," Tanner said. "That just means paying attention in meetings, paying attention in walkthroughs, keeping my body in shape, running and staying mentally prepared."
Tanner was so impressive in last year's preseason, when he rushed for 128 yards on 24 carries, that the Cowboys decided to keep four backs going into the season, and eventually cut fourth-year veteran Tashard Choice, elevating Tanner's stock further. He's had some bad luck since then, however, as he was placed on the IR – a move the Cowboys later regretted – due to a November hamstring injury.
He fractured a bone his hand during the first week of camp in Oxnard, Calif., and in his absence has seen the wide receiver-turned-fullback-turned-halfback Olawale put up some impressive practices and 72 yards on 22 carries versus Oakland and San Diego.
When Tanner was hurt, head coach Jason Garrett cited Emmitt Smith's quick recovery from a similar injury in 1999. But Tanner's healing process hasn't gone as quickly as that of the Hall of Famer, who returned to play on Thanksgiving just 11 days later.
"Right now it's just working out with the training staff and building a plan with them," Tanner said. "It's more so just staying in shape and staying focused mentally, getting smarter all the time so that whenever they do give me the green light, I'll be prepared."
If Olawale continues to improve and Tanner can't play by next week, the second-year back Tanner may have to sweat on cut down day, worrying that he hasn't had the opportunity to show what he can do this summer.
UPDATE: Tanner returned to practice in Thursday's no-contact session.