IRVING, Texas – One of the things coaches and front-office personnel always seem to say when asked about a position that appears to have an abundance of depth is how things always seem to have a way of working itself out.
A few days ago, we wondered just how the Cowboys would keep these tailbacks, knowing DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar had solid roles, Joseph Randle is a draft pick the club is excited about Phillip Tanner not only has looked good in camp and preseason, but has special teams value.
Keeping four running backs is rare. Then again, with no fullback on the roster, it's possible.
On Monday, we found out yet again why having depth is a good thing.
Dunbar's foot sprain injury that will keep him out 3-4 weeks likely means Tanner's spot on the roster is secure for now.
Then again, Dunbar isn't exactly ready to give up on the Sept. 8 season opener against the Giants. He said Monday the injury feels better than it did Sunday and hopes the improvement continues at a rapid pace.
"It's just disappointing but that's football," Dunbar said. "That's what happens. I'm just going to work hard to get back quick."
Dunbar had a 43-yard reception against the Cardinals, showcasing his speed and quickness out of the backfield. However, he didn't just get injured on the play, but also lost the football instead – one of six turnovers in the game. He also had an 18-yard reception coming out of the backfield as well.
Losing him for a month would be a big blow to the Cowboys, but Dunbar is focused more on the day-to-day approach.
"I know it's getting better. It feels a lot better than it did yesterday," Dunbar said. "My mindset is just: get back in the weight room and get treatment on this. Get back there as fast as I can."
Dunbar is expected to have a role as the No. 2 back, perhaps in a third-down role to give the offense a change of pace behind Murray, who hasn't been able to stay healthy his first two years. In fact, Murray also had a sprained foot injury last year that sidelined him for six weeks.
Murray came back and played the last five games. He led the Cowboys with 663 yards, marking the sixth straight year the club has failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher. In fact, since Tony Romo became the full-time starter in 2007, the Cowboys have yet to have a single back hit that plateau. The last was Julius Jones in 2006, when Romo started the last 10 games of the season.
The last time a back went for 1,100 yards in a season was 2000, when Emmitt Smith had 1,203 yards.
Randle and Tanner should also have roles in the offense and special teams. It'll be interesting to see what the Cowboys do for a third-down back if Dunbar can't play against the Giants. Randle might make the most sense, considering his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He had 108 catches in three seasons at Oklahoma State for 917 yards. However, the key to being a third-down back is the ability to not only recognize, but block the blitz.
The Cowboys made a point to see Randle more against the Cardinals, giving him most of the second half. In doing so, Tanner did not receive a single offensive snap.
"Yeah, collective decision," head coach Jason Garrett said Monday. "We wanted to see Joseph Randle. We wanted to hand Joseph Randle the ball and see what he was doing. Phillip has done a real nice job for us, both on offense and on teams. We've seen him for the last couple, three years and we wanted to give the young guy a chance to play. Phillip always responds the right way to stuff, to situations he's' been. Whether he gets an opportunity or doesn't get an opportunity, he makes the most out of it. Those are the kinds of guys you want on your team." [embedded_ad]
And with the latest injury to Dunbar, that seems to be the exact spot Tanner will be.