Phillips: With Randle Gone, Preseason RB Committee Plan Down To One

IRVING, Texas – In August, I interviewed Joseph Randle on the Oxnard practice field for a preseason pregame show TV package. It was a good 10-minute visit, during which he discussed seizing his first chance as a featured NFL running back after averaging 6.7 yards per carry in a pinch-hitting role for DeMarco Murray.

"If you do good with a little, I feel like you'll be blessed with a lot," Randle said then.

"If you take advantage of your few opportunities that you do have, your role will increase. I see that's kind of what's happening with me. I took my role very serious last year in trying to do the best thing for our team to help us win and channeled my goals toward the team's goals. I'm going to continue to do that, because it's been working for me."

When the interview ended, Randle asked me if his answers sounded boring.

"Nah, you were great," I said politely, and truthfully, because it was indeed an insightful and professional conversation.

Actually, he sort of preferred boring.

He clearly didn't want his words winding up as a juicy headline, another 'meat left on the bone' sound bite that would splash across newspapers and newscasts and social media posts comparing his talents to Murray, now with the Eagles. Understandably so.

Randle wanted to say the right things. He wanted his play to speak for him.

Fast forward to Nov. 3, a week before the 2015 season's halfway mark, and Joseph Randle is no longer the Dallas Cowboys' featured running back.

He's no longer a Dallas Cowboy, period.

The team officially waived him Tuesday after a puzzling week in which he took an excused leave of absence to handle a personal issue that the team has not divulged; a week in which reports surfaced indicating possible NFL discipline for his potential violation of the league's personal conduct policy months earlier; a week in which he was unable to practice anyway due to an oblique strain that limited him to two carries for 24 yards against the Giants on Oct. 25.

All those good intentions back in training camp, gone with a press release announcing his release just after noon.

Yet another key component in the Cowboys' offense, unavailable.

What happened?

"At the end of the day, Joe has personal issues that he's got to get his hands around," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Everybody wants to point to this issue or that issue, but at the end of the day, it's the full body of work. We have to look at it, and obviously I think right now football needs to be on the backburner for Joe and he needs to get his hands around some things. At the same time, we're looking at our team and what's best for our team."

Talent has never been an issue for Randle. Even with a small sample size his first three seasons, the Cowboys felt he had the vision, balance and burst to succeed Murray, who helped form a physical identity for this offense with a single-season franchise-record 1,845 yards in 2014.

They wanted Randle to take the same opportunity, respect it, protect it, and then run with it, just as he would with a toss sweep. It never happened.

He had moments, most notably 89 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of a Week 3 loss to Atlanta. But in the other 19 quarters, he totaled 226 yards and one touchdown in a timeshare with Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Christine Michael.

Just let this settle in for a moment: The Cowboys' franchise quarterback (Romo) has missed five games and counting with a fractured collarbone; their All-Pro receiver (Bryant) missed five games with a fractured foot; their electric versatile running back (Dunbar) is out for the season with a torn ACL; and now the guy they gave every chance to succeed Murray as a three-down tone-setter in the run game is gone.

That's two-thirds of the original running back committee no longer available. Not exactly the offense we envisioned in any setting other than perhaps the preseason finale.

Well, now the backfield belongs to D-Mac and C-Mike. The good news: The running game has looked most like 2014 in the last two games, with McFadden gaining 216 yards and a touchdown on 49 carries, a mix of dynamic and dirty runs. Michael's carries have incrementally increased in three appearances.

There's optimism for better games ahead. There also must be organizational disappointment that Randle's big break this offseason dissolved after six games. Hopefully he can move past his current challenges.

The Cowboys will forge ahead without him.

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