OXNARD, Calif. – With the starting running back job up for grabs, the guy who can churn out the most yards, and carry this offense on his back, will ultimately be the one who wins the job.
But the tucking the ball under his arm and running through the holes certainly isn't the only criteria in claiming the vacant starting role.
DeMarco Murray's replacement won't just be asked to run the ball, but all of the other aspects of the positon are just as important, namely the pass protection.
All quarterbacks are valuable, but Tony Romo has proven his worth for this team. So keeping him on his feet means backs must recognized and then pick up blitzes, quickly becoming one of their biggest priorities.
Head coach Jason Garrett was asked by a reporter this week if the media makes too much of pass protection.
"No, you don't. It's a great challenge," Garrett said. "There's a lot of responsibility that comes with that and the consequences of not doing that well on Sunday are significant. So you really have to have someone you can trust, who understands defenses, understands calls, and physically knows how to block guys because those are significant plays."[embeddedad0]
Murray rushed for 1,845 yards in 2014, breaking Emmitt Smith's 19-year old record from 1995 of 1,773 yards. While Smith was a valuable pass protector in his own right, Murray's blitz pick-up might be just as hard to replace.
"He was a very good protector," Garrett said of Murray, who has since signed with the Eagles this offseason. "It's so important because defenses do such a great job in this league in challenging you in so many different ways schematically that if you're not quick mentally to be able to handle those different things and you're hesitant again the consequences of that are significant for your football team."
In 2010, Romo's season was lost after just six games when a rookie fullback missed a block against the Giants, allowing a free linebacker to deck Romo, who sustained a broken collarbone.
Joseph Randle, the leader in the clubhouse for the starting job, said pass protection is right there with the rest of the intangibles he's trying to polish in his quest to win the job.
"It's about that want-to," Randle said about pass blocking. "I'm trying to make sure I don't miss any reads, miss any blocks, miss any cuts."
And Randle's main competition, Darren McFadden, said that's one of his favirote parts of the positon.
"I like to mix it up in there," said the former Raider veteran. "You've got have the will to get in there and take on those guys. That's your quarterback back there and you have to make sure he stays upright."
Garrett said McFadden's blitz pick-up is one of the best parts of his game.
"He's done an excellent job throughout his career. He's a smart football player. He's aware. He's been in those situations. He's also physically tough," Garrett said of McFadden. "That's one of the great impressions that we had of McFadden when he was coming out of school is that he's a tough guy, he's a tough runner. Oftentimes, (running backs are) not physically strong enough to handle it and those guys just knock you over and go get the quarterback. But he has all the positive traits and he's done it a lot."
And maybe, that part of McFadden's game will help him catch up in the competition after missing at least a week with a hamstring injury.
It'll come down to running the ball first and foremost. But if it's close, the tiebreaker might just be for the guy who does more than following his blockers, but becomes one as well.