Dallas Cowboys: This powerful, young running back can make the roster


When most Dallas Cowboys fans hear the name Gus Johnson, it’s probably an overly enthusiastic sportscaster who provides us such gems as “Getting away from the cops speed” that first comes to mind.

So naturally, as the news trickled in that the Cowboys had signed a different Gus Johnson, a talented FCS running back from Stephen F. Austin State University, many quickly dubbed him with the dreaded camp body label.

I’m here to tell you those people are wrong.

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To be clear, this is not a prediction. The Cowboys will carry five running backs into training camp. Including the recent addition of Johnson, Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Lache Seastrunk currently fill out the Cowboys bloated depth chart at running back. And even ruling out the distinct possibility of adding a veteran to that list, at least one of those backs, probably two, will not see the opening roster.

But as we sit here today, the Cowboys players have had their first practice session in Oxnard on Thursday. And Gus The Bus Johnson has a legitimate shot to be a very solid player for America’s Team.

From a statistical standpoint, Johnson had a distinguished career at Stephen F. Austin. After choosing SFA over Tulsa and Conference USA, Gus assumed the starting role as a sophomore. But the young runner was plugged into an offense that averaged 50+ pass attempts per game.

Quarterback Brady Attaway, a prolific passer that is also prone to turnovers, led the Lumberjacks offense to the tune of nearly 3,700 yards through the air, while Gus was limited to 154 carries on the ground. Still, Johnson managed to average more than 6.2 yards per carry in that first season, topping 950 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns.

That 2012 campaign was a disappointing one for SFA. A season that saw tremendous offensive brilliance was undone by untimely turnovers, an underachieving defense, and ultimately a 5-6 record.

Still, Gus Johnson had emerged.

Johnson didn’t dominate FCS football with speed. Gus mauled linebackers and safeties with sheer power.

The next season again saw the SFA offense run primarily through Attaway’s arm. Johnson increased his carries to 176, but the Lumberjacks, who continued to struggle defensively and often trailed early, attempted 584 passes. All the same, the efficiency behind the power of to young running back was impossible not to notice.

Johnson again averaged more than 6.0 yards, this time for just over 1000 yards and 11 touchdowns. As 2013 ended, another highly disappointing season in the win/loss column resulted in the firing of J.C. Harper as the head coach of Stephen F. Austin.

Harper’s replacement, Clint Conque, instituted an offense that finally focused on his best player.

With Attaway having graduated, a raw passer in Zach Conque took the reins at quarterback. And for his final season in Nacogdoches, TX, Johnson was finally unleashed.

It’s important to note that even for the 2014 season, Stephen F. Austin did not boast an overpowering offensive line. For much of Johnson’s career in purple, the Lumberjacks actually struggled up-front. This is particularly notable as scouts have pointed to Johnson’s pedestrian 40-yard time during the NFL Combine.

Johnson didn’t dominate FCS football with speed. Gus mauled linebackers and safeties with sheer power.  His unique style in college quickly birthed his nickname, The Bus.

During his senior season, Johnson made the FCS nation take notice. He was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award (hardware won by quarterback Tony Romo during his 2002 season at Eastern Illinois), led the nation in touchdowns with 23, averaged 7.0 yards per carry with 1683 overall, and carried Stephen F. Austin back to the playoffs.

If an offense could have fully used his abilities for all three seasons, one can only guess what Gus’ career production might have been. As it stands though, SFA’s all-time leading rusher is a unique talent that managed to stay behind the curtains of the FCS-level long enough for many to miss him entirely. And that was even after showcasing his brute strength during NFL Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.

Critics often say film does no justice to speed. I say the same of power. Johnson is the type of football player that is difficult to grade without seeing in person.

I’ve seen him play.

The Cowboys may have stumbled on an undrafted steal. Perhaps a solid practice squad player, the next Marion Barber, or neither.

But Johnson is more than a camp body.

Gus Johnson is an NFL running back.

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