Spagnola: Under Radar D-Mac Certainly Raising Eyebrows and Hopes

IRVING, Texas– This has slipped under the radar, clouded by more stormy news.

         One day it's the rain of Hurricane Bill.

         The next it's Dez Bryant, issuing somewhat hollow threats of skipping the first game of the season if he isn't signed to a long-term contract by the July 15 deadline, meaning he'd be willing on principle to forfeit 1/17th of the guaranteed $12.823 million that comes with signing his franchise tender, or roughly $754,000 for one week's work.

         Then it's third-round draft choice Chaz Green having surgery to repair a labrum tear in his hip.

         Then it's Rolando McClain actually here for the mandatory three-day minicamp after missing all the OTAs, but not exactly forthcoming on why he hasn't been around The Ranch rehabbing from his knee scope.

         Then it's Dez showing up to watch Thursday's final minicamp workout, spending his time on the side at AT&T Stadium playing catch with whoever was available and then having a 15-minute conversation with owner Jerry Jones for all to witness – and time – hugging as they parted.

         And then, too, it was Terrance Williams near the end of this final practice of the offseason falling harshly on his elbow, being led off and back here to The Ranch for X-rays that for now are suggesting only a contusion that he basically has five weeks to recover from before the July 28 start to training camp.

         One thing after another after another.

         But get this: Had you asked me a week ago or two weeks ago just who was going to be the Cowboys starting running back come Sept. 13 against the New York Giants, just who the guy taking the first handoff in place of the departed DeMarco Murray would be, my answer very quickly would have been …

         Joe Randle.

         Now, though, after this recently completed three-day minicamp, the answer, at least in my mind, has changed to this:

         TBD … To Be Determined.

And that has nothing to do with Randle, who continues to flash the vision, speed and cutting ability that allowed him to average 6.7 yards per attempt and a touchdown every 17 carries with minimal opportunities last year.

Nope, it has everything to do with the reappearance of D-Mac.

Darren McFadden.

See, McFadden ended up missing the majority of the OTA workouts we were privy to attend, a balky hamstring and the team's overly cautious approach to these offseason practices keeping him from participating in the more competitive team sessions.

But he was back on the field during the minicamp, and man, there appeared to be something there … still there heading into his eighth NFL season. Now look, I know this isn't real football, these practices in helmets, jerseys and shorts, and reserve the right to change my impression once the head-knocking begins in Oxnard, Calif.

And I've heard all the skepticism about this former fourth pick in the 2008 draft's time with the Raiders. That he has averaged just 3.6 touchdowns a year, only averaged 3.4 yards per carry this past season, though 4.1 for his career in 1,038 attempts (Emmitt finished at 4.2 with umpteen more carries), and that being injury prone limited him to just 83 of a possible 112 games during his career.

I get it.

Still, I'm telling you, this guy – up to this point – passes the eyeball test. He's got something.

Not real sure what I was expecting, but it was not this:

Took a handoff on a running play going left where the daylight was no more than a glimmer, and in the blink of an eye he slithered through the crease without missing a step, then put his foot in the ground, boom, off he went with speed that made you go are you kidding me?

Then there was a run to the outside, sort of a sweep, and the defense appeared to have the angle on him. His speed minimized the angle. Off he went, vroom.

And on a few up-the-middle runs his vision was wide-angle, his nature not shy.

Then there was this, too: The Cowboys on Thursday were practicing kickoff returns in earnest. Bunch of young dudes back there, the sort trying to do whatever they ask just to make the 53-man roster. And there with them was No. 20, showing the enthusiasm and speed teams feared when he was an Arkansas Razorback.

Made you go hmmmm.

And, it wasn't just me.

"We talk about how our running game created a mentality for the whole football team last year," Jerry Jones would say. "McFadden is very capable of creating that kind of mentality out of the running back position," all after prefacing that this has nothing to do with being a former Razorback himself, saying, "It's been a long time since I was a Razorback, so I'm more interested in McFadden for what he can do for the Cowboys than the fact he was a Razorback several years ago."[embeddedad0]

In other words, an unbiased optimism.

Then there was Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, he the advocate of creating the physical mentality his ball club adopted last year with Murray running the ball and certainly not wanting to regress into finesse in Murray's absence.

"At his size, he's definitely a physical presence, a physical player," Garrett begins on the 6-1, 218-pouind McFadden. "I remember evaluating him coming out of school, and that's the thing that jumped off the tape more than anything else. Whether he was the lead blocker on some of that Razorback stuff that they ran with Felix Jones or whether he was just running the power play, he was just a physical, physical player."

And this from running backs coach Gary Brown: "He has impressed everybody with his professionalism and skill set."

Now then, they'll all willingly qualify this with …

So far.

Can't tell for sure with running backs until the pads come on. Can't tell until the head-knocking starts. Can't tell until they get some carries in preseason games when the tackling begins. Can't wait until the Rams formidable defensive front shows up for those training camp practices in Oxnard when the competiveness amps up, when boys will be boys in the supposedly no-tackling team drills. Right.

But you, too, would've liked how McFadden ran in these three minicamp practices. You, too, would have been impressed with his vision, this knack for slithering through holes, and most of all, his finishing speed.

Now, if he can just stay healthy, and funny thing, isn't that what we were saying this time last year about Murray? Not a soul knew an 1,800-yard season and NFL rushing title were in his future. Nor a contract including $21 million in guaranteed money. There would have been those who thought you had fallen on your head had you suggested any of the such about Murray at this time a year ago, despite the Cowboys having upgraded the quality of that now Pro Bowl-laden offensive line.

So we'll see, and that certainly is better than the can't bear to watch, same thoughts most had about the Cowboys defense a season ago. What a difference a year can make.

Plus, like what I heard from Brown when someone asked about a "running back position by committee" approach since there is not a clear-cut starter.

Well, Brown politely objected, and corrected, saying, "Hopefully we won't have to go to a pure running back by committee. Each guy will have a role."

Telling you, after what I saw, don't discount McFadden's.

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