ARLINGTON, Texas – Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar had just one full preseason game to earn a spot on the Cowboys roster after injuries held them out the majority of training camp. They didn't disappoint.
Tanner carried nine times for 48 yards and Dunbar led all Cowboys running backs with 105 yards on 15 carries, including a 58-yard touchdown score in the third quarter Wednesday against the Dolphins.
Dunbar said he felt like he was running for his life – at least on the roster.
"It was really hard, watching everybody out there trying to earn their spot on this team and me being hurt," Dunbar said. "I was kind of down, but I had to fight through it."
A sore hamstring hampered Dunbar in training camp, while Tanner's injury is still visible. A scar on his right hand shows the location of his surgery for a broken hand he suffered in August.
Both running backs played limited roles in the Cowboys' dress rehearsal game against the Rams, compiling a combined three yards on five-second half carries.
Their assignments increased exponentially Wednesday, taking all the carries through the first three quarters. Dunbar and Tanner both scored, starting with Tanner's 1-yard run at the goal line toward the end of the first half.
Tanner said he wanted to play the same way as the peewee football team that took the field before the game.
"Just the smiles on their faces and seeing how they go out and have fun and play football, that was our goal as a team," Tanner said. "Go out, seize the moment, not worry too much and go out and have fun."
Tanner and Dunbar both gave credit to the offensive line and fullbacks for opening the holes they needed to average 5.3 and 7.0 yards per rush, respectively.
Tanner's performance verified he's healthy enough to be the player they saw break out in the preseason last year and perform in nine regular season games, while Dunbar proved he still had cutting abilities and a quick burst following his hamstring issue.
"Tanner has done a really nice job since he's been here, both as an offensive player and also on special teams," said head coach Jason Garrett. "We felt really good about Dunbar all through the offseason and through training camp; he just didn't have a chance to play because he got banged up."
In addition to Dunbar and Tanner's performances, Jamize Olawale, who emerged as the Cowboys leading rusher through the first two preseason games, also got seven carries for 53 yards in the fourth quarter.
Regardless of what happens with the upcoming cuts, none of the running backs have made it easy on the Cowboys coaches. "I'm just smiling about it," Tanner said. "At the end of the day, I go out there and give it my all. Whatever the Lord has in store for me, that's what it is. I don't sit up and worry about things I can't control."