ARLINGTON, Texas – When Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar both left the first week of training camp with injuries, it didn't appear the Cowboys had anyone else on their current roster to fill their roles.
After the emergence of converted fullback Jamize Olawale, both players are fighting for their jobs as they return to practice in preparation for Saturday's preseason game against the Rams.
Tanner had surgery on a fractured bone in his hand and Dunbar suffered a hamstring injury on Aug. 4, the same day Miles Austin left with a hamstring injury. Tanner and Dunbar haven't played in a preseason game yet this season.
Most of Tanner's reps Thursday came on special teams, rather than running back.
"It felt good," Tanner said. "My biggest thing was staying into it mentally. That was the most important part. I did well on that. As far as conditioning, no matter how much conditioning you do, it always feels good to get back out here and do special teams."
Tanner knows what it's like to be a surprise back in the preseason. He did last preseason what Olawale has done this year, rushing for 72 yards on 22 carries through the first two games while Tanner and Dunbar have sat out.
Dunbar said he knows he has a lot to make up for this weekend, after returning to practice Monday against the Chargers. He said he's 100 percent healthy and stressed the importance of the game this weekend to show he's back.
"It's my first time in action," Dunbar said. "They want to see what I can do. I've got to come ready to work."
Olawale isn't sure yet how his carries in the backfield will change with the anticipated return of the duo. He said his concern is playing his best when he's called upon, and he doesn't know if he's opened coaches eyes or not.
He said he feels like he is a different type of running back who could be useful to the Cowboys toward the goal line.
"I feel like I can help in those situations. Whatever they ask me to do I feel like I can step up and help," Olawale said. "I would love to." Tanner and Dunbar left as the No. 3 and No. 4 running backs when they were hurt. It remains to be seen where they sit on the depth chart after the emergence of Olawale, who said coaches are still having trouble pronouncing his name correctly. If he continues leading the team in rushing, as he has through two preseason games, it won't be long before they get it right.