With training camp starting next week in Oxnard, California, we offer up a position-by-position preview.
Who’s gone: DeMarco Murray
Roster spots available: Four or five
Key question: Who will be the leader of the committee?
By not getting into the big-money sweepstakes to keep Murray, the Cowboys have cast their lot with their offensive line and scheme. There is no possible way to expect any of the runners to match Murray’s 392 carries for 1,845 yards and that’s not what the Cowboys will ask them to do. The Cowboys, however, believe they will still be able to run the ball well enough to keep some pressure off Tony Romo and the defense. Last year they ran for 2,354 yards as a team. Even if they rush for 2,000 yards as a team that would likely put them in the top 10 in the league.
McFadden is the only Cowboys’ runner with any real resume with his time in Oakland, but he had just one 1,000-yard season for the Raiders and has not averaged better than 3.4 yards per carry since 2011. Perhaps those numbers were a product of the environment rather than McFadden’s ability. At least that’s what the Cowboys hope.
Dunbar can help in bits and pieces but doesn’t have the build to be an every-down back. That doesn’t mean he won’t be vital to the offense in a third-down package. Williams spent last year on the practice squad and is something like a backup quarterback: everybody loves him because he hasn’t played. He faces a steep climb to make the roster.
Randle has the best chance to be the leader of the committee even if the team has off-field concerns because of his two arrests in the last year. His “meat on the bone” comment drew the ire of Jason Garrett, but he wasn’t altogether wrong on the yards Murray left on the field last year. Randle had 343 yards on 51 carries and three touchdowns last year, which was a good two-game span by Murray in 2014.
Randle has the best blend of vision and speed among the Cowboys runners and has a good feel for the zone scheme.
Randle’s statistics from 2014 are difficult to judge but the prevailing thought that he was able to pile up yards after Murray wore down defenses doesn’t tell the whole story. He had 11 first-quarter carries in 2014 for 100 yards. But that’s just not enough work to guarantee he can do what Murray did although it does offer some hope.
As the Cowboys open camp in Oxnard, California, he will be given the best chance to be the leader of the committee to start.
Quick thought: If the Cowboys are not 100 percent pleased with what they see in the preseason games from their current crop of runners, they will look at other teams that might have runners stockpiled. Veterans such as Ray Rice, Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene haven’t enticed them much at all and are declining players. Adding any of them would be akin to adding Eddie George in 2004 and that didn’t work out.
The Cowboys were linked to Adrian Peterson throughout the offseason, but that was more fantasy than reality. They were linked to all the top runners in the draft, but they did not select one. At some point people might believe the Cowboys’ offseason actions in seeing they like what they have at running back.
Finding runners is not difficult. Finding the right runner for the right scheme can be a little tricky.