With all the questions of DeMarco Murray and how he plans to play a complete season, this front office and coaching staff still have to prepare with the thought that might not happen. It's not the Murray isn't capable of staying injury free, the reality is that he hasn't in his first two seasons. In the Spring, with a group of quality running backs to choose from, they made a commitment to Joseph Randle from Oklahoma State.
On tape, Randle played in an offense where the majority of the time he played as the single back in a shotgun attack. From my view, Randle had two strong traits which was his ability to take the ball, read the hole and attack it which will serve him well in this zone running scheme which the Cowboys are using more under Bill Callahan. The second trait, was his ability to catch the ball in space. There were several places in the formation where Randle would line up for the chance to receive the ball and he was able to complete the job with good success. As most rookie backs, where he will have to improve is in blitz pickup and understanding where he fits in the protection.
Where Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar have an advantage over Randle is they have been in the system for a season and they already have a feel for what is required of them. Where Tanner and Dunbar also have an advantage over Randle is the commitment that they both have made to get ready for this upcoming season. Physically Phillip Tanner doesn't look as heavy or sluggish as he did in 2012. He is hitting the hole with better quickness but he is also doing it with more understanding.
There were times where Tanner would just take the ball, lower his head and run till he heard glass break. That is no longer the case for him. As a pass protector, he still plays square but he needs to do a better job of maintaining his position and finishing his block. If he gets that part down, he will be a more complete back.
Lance Dunbar looks thicker physically at 191 pounds and that is a positive sign. I feel like that he is the "Wildcard" in this group because of all the situations he can handle when playing in space. There is real explosiveness to his game and you can clearly see it when the ball is in his hands. Where he can be a real factor is in this zone scheme when the ball is handed to him and then he is able to get through the hole and into the second level.
In talking with Jason Witten one afternoon, he couldn't say enough positive things about Dunbar and even predicting that he could catch 50 balls for the season as the 3rd down back. Dunbar does have outstanding hands which is a trait that Murray and Randle also share but as far as a pass protector, this is where Dunbar needs to maintain his bulk. His height limits what he can accomplish at times but the effort is good, it's the technique that needs more work.
As the Cowboys enter the 2013 season, the hope is for DeMarco Murray to remain healthy, because he gives you the best chance to jump start a running game that was ranked 31st in the league in 2012. Bill Callahan said it best, "When Murray is in the game, he makes us all better blockers, no question about it". The front office and coaches had a 3rd round grade on Joseph Randle which was higher than Andre Ellington, Theo Riddick and Mike Gillislee who are all good players. There is no doubt of their confidence in his ability but if something were to happen to Murray, look for the coaches to turn to Tanner and Dunbar to carry the load first because of their experience in this offense but physically how they have prepared themselves for that opportunity.