Canton, Ohio – Somebody forgot to tell Phillip Tanner he'd be ceding the backup running back spot.
Whatever eyes were on rookie running back Joseph Randle when Sunday's Hall of Fame Game started, they shifted onto the Cowboys' third-year veteran in short order.
Tanner put in more work in one half of the 24-20 win against Miami – 10 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown – than he did during the entirety of 2012's preseason. Whether he was plowing across the goal line for his one-yard touchdown, or bulling through the Dolphins' secondary, Tanner showed feature back-type toughness the Cowboys wanted from their reserve runners.
"It started in the offseason training, through OTA's, and camp, and I'm just trying to keep it going," Tanner said. "Coach Gary Brown has been in my ear, he's helping me out tremendously. The offensive line, they make it a lot easier for me also."
Even the non-plays were interesting for Tanner, who was quickly the early storyline of the opener. The Dallas native bruised his arm halfway through the second quarter and left the field, much to the dismay of excited Cowboys fans. That episode didn't last long, however, as he returned in short order to finish out his half's worth of work.
"I'm not even for sure, man, but just my finger was messing with me a little bit. But other than that it was all fine – nothing major," Tanner said. "Everything's cool, I came back out and finished up."
It's an interesting development for the Cowboys' backfield, to be sure. DeMarco Murray is the unquestioned workhorse despite not playing a down against the Dolphins. The diminutive Lance Dunbar, who was technically the starter against Miami, makes a case as a third down back with his shiftiness and good hands. And then there's Randle, who showed flashes of his potential with 70 hard-fought yards of his own.
None of that seemed to matter to Tanner, who carried Dolphin defenders with him for a final average of 5.9 yards per rush.
"Coach Garrett says all the time, whether it's one snap or 100 snaps, play like it's your last – take advantage of your opportunity," he said.
It's safe to say he did that. Tanner didn't produce any highlight package moments – not quite like linebacker DeVonte Holloman's pick-six. But his power at the goal line, and his ability to break tackles to the second level was evident on runs of 17, 17 and nine.
"Power, strength – whatever they need. My goal is to establish my role and play well," Tanner said. "I feel faster and I know the game a lot better."
Photos from the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, OH >>