The Dallas Cowboys biggest areas of weakness in recent seasons have been the play of the offensive line and in the defensive secondary. The team attempted to address a weakness on the offensive line this week with a contract offer that was accepted and then subsequently rejected as Brandon Moore opted for retirement instead of returning for a 12th campaign. While the O-line and secondary look to remain question marks, there are two position groups on the team that look to be sufficiently stocked for the upcoming season.
Aug 4, 2013; Canton, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner (34) runs with the ball after losing his helmet in the second quarter of the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame game against the Miami Dolphins at Fawcett Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The tight end and running back position groups look to be an area of strength for the team heading into the 2013 season. The tight ends are Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Dante Rosario, Colin Cochart, and Andre Smith. The team will keep the first four, and possibly a 5th due the team transitioning to a two tight-end offense with the last spot going to either Cochart or Smith.
The running backs currently on the roster are DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Joesph Randle, Phillip Tanner, and Kendial Lawrence. The first three should be locks for the final 53, with Tanner on the bubble depending on how long the team wants to go at other positions. With Murray entering the season once again as the starter, the question concerning Murray as always is “how long before he starts missing games”? In his rookie season of 2011 Murray missed three games, and he missed six last year in 2012. While he has stated he feels healthy and plans to be there for the team, his injury history is one that follows him back to his college days at Oklahoma.
The team briefly used Dunbar in the first preseason game against the Dolphins, most likely because the team already knows what they have in him and wanting to keep him fresh for the regular season. Dunbar looks to possibly be the “change of pace” back that the team had so desperately hoped Felix Jones would develop into.
With the team spending their 5th round choice on Randle, he looks to have the all-around game that Murray possesses as well. The team will look to hold onto Randle, who is viewed as a longer termed possible replacement for Murray should contract extension talks not go the way the team would like. Murray signed a 4 yr. deal in 2011, and after the 2014 season ends Murray will be a free agent and free to negotiate a new contract.
Tanner was signed by the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Tanner saw action in 9 games in 2011 and 14 in 2012. However, he only had 22 rushes in 2011 (3.5 avg per attempt) and 25 in 2012 (2.4 avg per attempt). On Sunday night, Tanner showed some flashes rushing 10 times for 59 yards and a touchdown.
With the Cowboys already knowing their #1 back is prone to injury, it may be prudent for the team to carry four backs on the opening day 53 man roster. While they might not get to keep another player they have interest in, having a good rotation and a “running back by committee” may help to keep Murray healthy longer than if they give him the ball too much early on. The team would be better off to have a stable of four young backs and rotate them throughout the season, than start with three and then have to sign a veteran retread halfway through the season.