OXNARD, Calif. – Even the lead running back is calling for Lance Dunbar to get touches this year.
Anyone who's watched Dunbar since the North Texas product came to the Cowboys in 2012 has seen that the 5-8 running back brings an added dimension of quickness, speed and agility no others possess on the roster.
There's no question DeMarco Murray is the leader and bell cow of the group, but Dunbar's the back everyone's waiting to break out.
"Dunbar's a special guy," Murray said. "He definitely gives a great chance to do some things. I definitely want to be in there as much as I can. But I definitely know and feel he needs to get some touches, get on the field and make some things happen, because he's definitely a spark for our team."
Murray described himself as the running back of the team, and there's really no question about that. Murray's ability to play on any down makes him special, but the Cowboys need to find ways to keep him healthy for a full 16 games.
One way is to have another running back to lighten the load.
It may not be a traditional two-back system in Dallas this year, regardless which backup running backs make the team, but Dunbar's a guy the Cowboys will need to find touches for – whether it's on a handoff, sweep or as a receiver out of the backfield.
"We have a great running back in DeMarco, he's our guy," Dunbar said. "So if he's getting the carries, I have to get mine another way, and I'm really good at catching the ball out of the backfield. So I'm small and fast and they've got linebackers covering me, so why not take advantage of the mismatches?"
Head coach Jason Garrett and new play-caller Scott Linehan will be the ones called upon to take advantage of that, and Linehan has a history of using multiple backs productively. Last season with the Lions, backup running back Joique Bell compiled 650 rushing yards and 547 receiving yards all while Reggie Bush rushed for 1,000 yards.
Garrett pointed out that very few teams in today's game have a player who gets the ball 25 times a game. That said, he wants to get Murray a lot of touches while finding touches for Dunbar.
Despite Dunbar only getting 30 rushing attempts and seven targets in the passing game last season, Garrett doesn't believe getting him involved will be an issue this year, and he said it's a good problem to have.
"Anybody who has followed our football team the last couple of years sees that Lance Dunbar can contribute and he continues to get better and better," Garrett said. "Dunbar is a guy who can do a lot of different things, so it's not like you say, 'Hey, when Dunbar goes in, he's only going to do these things.' If something happened to DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar had to play, we'd run our offense. He's that kind of football player, but he also has some special skills that we like to highlight." [embedded_ad]
For those skills to be highlighted to perfection, Dunbar needs to stay on the field. That's his main focus after taking 12 carries for 82 yards against the Raiders last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
To help stay healthy, Dunbar said he changed his diet and bettered his numbers in the weight room, getting stronger in every category this offseason.
Since the start of Organized Team Activities, Dunbar said he feels like he's returned to form. If that's the case, he should be back to being the explosive back that had everyone excited early last year.
"My main thing is stay healthy," Dunbar said. "That's the only thing that's stopping me from being successful in this league. I feel like I've been doing a good job when I'm in there aside from the injuries. I'm just trying to stay healthy this whole season."