Cowboys' proof of purchase: Lance Dunbar

In some ways 2013 did not answer enough questions for the Cowboys regarding personnel. NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer looks at players the Cowboys still need answers on heading into 2014.

IRVING, Texas – On an offense filled with known commodities, the Dallas Cowboys hoped Lance Dunbar would become a change-of-pace running back who affected the running game and passing game.

Injuries prevented that from happening.

Dunbar missed the first game of the year and much of the preseason with a foot injury. He missed time with a hamstring injury. His season ended on Thanksgiving because of a knee injury that required surgery.

Dunbar finished with 150 yards rushing on 30 carries. He caught only seven passes for 59 yards.

While he isn’t Darren Sproles, the Cowboys viewed Dunbar in a role Sproles plays for the New Orleans Saints -- a quick-hitter in the run game, effective in the screen game. He could have been a dangerous player in space.

With the zone-running game, Dunbar has the ability to hit it and go. He is elusive in the passing game and has a good feel for how to set up screens. He is even a willing pass protector.

On Thanksgiving, Dunbar offered up what could have been when he carried the ball 12 times for 82 yards. On a spread field, Dunbar kept finding holes and exploiting the Oakland Raiders' defense until he took a shot to his knee in the fourth quarter.

Joseph Randle, the Cowboys’ fifth-round pick in 2013, will get the chance to push Dunbar for playing time, but he is a different type of back. Randle was unable to take part in offseason practices last spring because of thumb surgery, which hurt his progress.

After the season ended, Dunbar said his knee was feeling fine and he was told he will be good to go for the offseason program in the spring. He will have another chance to earn that change-of-pace role in 2014, but he has to stay healthy and he must protect the ball better.

If Dunbar can, then the Cowboys will have to find a role for him in 2014 even in an offense that has a lot of roles filled.