The Dallas Cowboys’ running back experiment is off to a slow start.
After refusing to pay DeMarco Murray the big contract he wanted in March and watching him sign instead with Philadelphia, the Cowboys entered training camp with plans for a running back by committee — an assortment of little-known backs that would split reps and divide the workload in the back field. The Cowboys didn’t make a splashy move for Adrian Peterson, as some anticipated, and have reportedly expressed no interest in guys like Ray Rice or Chris Johnson.
Before training camp, the Cowboys planned to have some combination of Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams, and Darren McFadden share running back responsibilities. But now, just a few days away from their first preseason game, this committee of backs is shrinking. At the moment, every single one is sidelined with an injury.
Randle is out with a strained oblique, Dunbar has an ankle sprain, and Williams was cut after a knee injury. McFadden has yet to practice in training camp as a result of hamstring issues. Retired Steelers player Rodney Harrison recently told Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that McFadden was in worse shape than he was.
Yesterday, Brandon Roy of the Dallas Morning News reported that undrafted free agent Gus Johnson (no, not this Gus Johnson) is taking first-team reps and will likely start in the team’s Thursday preseason game against San Diego. Fullback Tyler Clutts and 2014 sixth-round pick Lache Seastrunk are the only other backs left on the depth chart.
It sounds apocalyptic for the Cowboys, but it might not be quite so awful. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas had the best run-blocking offensive line in the league last year. With a line that good, you don’t need DeMarco Murray, or a prestige rusher. You’ll probably be fine with Darren McFadden and a handful of others.
The running back positions is changing, with more teams finding success on the ground without having a big-name back. Consider the Patriots, who just won a Super Bowl with LaGarrette Blount, or the fact that no running back has led the league in rushing two years in a row since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006-07. After losing one of the best running backs in the league, the Cowboys have adopted the Patriots model.
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