November 20, 2011; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner (34) runs with the ball prior to the Cowboys game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Phillip Tanner & the Cowboys Running Back Situation Heading Into 2012

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A perfect microcosm exists for the Dallas Cowboys coming into the 2012 season, the nature of it being team identity. Head coach Jason Garrett’s recent OTA comments lend to this team identity crisis. Coach Garrett definitely believes the NFL to be a pass first league. The third year head coach also believes teams need physicality as an attribute in order to win in today’s league.

So which is it for the Dallas Cowboys? Is the team finally coming out of the shell and destined to be a team physical by nature? Is the team limited to the confines of passing first, due to the still budding potential of former first round pick Felix Jones? Jones along with 2011 3rd round draft selection DeMarco Murray’s known injury history may once again unknowingly and with out much control lead the team in the pass first direction.

Having a pair of “potential” stud running backs lining up behind Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will hand the Boys quite the quandary this season if Murray remains true to the players oft injured history.

Back in July of 2008 first round draft pick Felix Jones signed a five-year, $10.525 million contract. The deal contained $7.665 million guaranteed, which included a $3.57 million signing bonus. This season is a contract year for the former Arkansas Razorback running back, Jones will be paid $1.17 million for the 2012 season dealing the Dallas Cowboys a $1.88M salary cap hit.

DeMarco Murray is no longer talking about his ankle or an injury plagued career that has followed him from theUniversity of Oklahoma. Jones finally began to meet expectations during the 2010 campaign when the former Arkansas Running back rushed for 800 yards and had 48 receptions for another 450 yards yet managed only two total touchdowns.

Felix Jones has never rushed for more than three touchdowns in a season. DeMarco Murray surpassed Jones’ per season rushing totals in only thirteen games last season. The Dallas Cowboys are not going to dish out top running back money to Felix Jones in order to keep him on the roster during or even after the 2012 NFL season and are likely to see if Jones can complete an entire season which he has only managed once since being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2008.

The Cowboys will likely turn their attention to second year player Phillip Tanner during training camp and the preseason. Something Tanner is already becoming accustomed to as during OTA’s and this weeks mini-camp, Felix Jones will likely still be nursing a shoulder injury.

Phillip Tanner is an intriguing prospect from Middle Tennessee State. Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Cowboys prior to last season, Tanner is most remembered for a twenty-two yard helmetless scamper into the end zone during a 2011 preseason game versus the San Diego Chargers. Last season Tanner actually suited up for nine games and toting the ball twenty-two times for a 3.5 yard average before being placed on injured reserve, in early December, with a hamstring injury. Phillip Tanner’s 3.5 yard per carry average should increase in 2012 with a larger sample size in the form of more carries.

Standing at an even six foot tall and weighing in at 218 pounds Phillip Tanner could find himself providing quality depth at the running back position and possibly trust into a starting role assuming both Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray both holdfast to both running back’s prior injury histories.

Phillip Tanner will be someone many fans will want to keep an eye on during training camp. Watching the preseason unfold as the former undrafted free agent could find himself thrust into a starting role with an opportunity to follow in similar footsteps of another former undrafted free agent who also played college ball in Tennessee, that player being NFL rushing champ and current native Texans professional football player Arian Foster.

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Tags: Arian Foster Dallas Cowboys DeMarco Murray Felix Jones NFL Phillip Tanner Tony Romo

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