With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group in a 10-part series, continuing today with the running back position.
Top of the chart: DeMarco Murray
He's the guy the Cowboys will lean on once again at tailback. Obviously, the club is hoping Murray can stay healthy – something he's failed to do in two seasons. Murray has missed nine games the past two years. To put in perspective, Emmitt Smith missed seven in his 13 seasons in Dallas. For what it's worth, Murray has predicted to play in all 16 games this year. Now when he's on the field, Murray has been productive. Of the nine games Murray finished, the Cowboys won five. He had a huge night against the Giants in Week 1 and played a big role in the comeback win over the Bengals later in the season. The Cowboys need him to be a consistent producer in the running game. He needs to be consistently on the field to do that.
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The Cowboys had just eight rushing touchdowns in 2012, and one came from Tony Romo. Around the league, there were 10 different players who single-handedly outscored the entire Cowboys' running game. The scary part is that last year's production was actually a step up from the five rushing scores they had in 2011. Still, the Cowboys need to be able to run the ball into the end zone, and that usually occurs inside the 20. Of the eight rushing scores, only one occurred outside the 20 – a 22-yard run from Felix Jones against the Ravens. The Cowboys have to improve when they get inside the 20 and it starts with a better running game.
Still need to know … How the backup RB will shake out
The Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle in the fifth round but have high hopes for the player they had projected as a third-rounder. A thumb injury hasn't allowed the rookie from Oklahoma State to practice much this summer but he should be ready to participate for all of training camp. Still, Randle won't be handed the duties of the backup tailback without a fight.
Lance Dunbar had an impressive summer and figures to be in the plans as a third-down and change-of-pace back. Phillip Tanner might figure himself into the mix as well.
But Randle does have a history of running the ball into the end zone and could help with that previous concern. He did score 40 touchdowns in two seasons as the OSU feature back. It should be an interesting battle, especially considering Murray's injury history. We might be talking about more than just the backup running back.
Don't forget about … Kendial Lawrence
Even though the running back position seems stacked, there always seems to be a running back that comes out of nowhere to impress. Tanner did it in 2011 and Dunbar and Jamize Olawale did that in 2012. So watch out for Lawrence, who quietly put together a solid season for Missouri, which struggled through its first season in the SEC.
Lawrence still rushed for 1,025 yards (fifth among SEC tailbacks) with a 5.1 yard average and scored 12 touchdowns.
At 5-9, 196, Lawrence is considered small, but really he's bigger than Dunbar. So size shouldn't be an issue. If he can catch the ball out of the backfield, he'll likely turn some heads that way.
With five preseason games and the Cowboys likely trying to hold Murray out of the majority of them, there will be plenty of snaps to go around.