The Dallas Cowboys are in the hunt for a starting running back. After losing the NFL’s leading rusher, running back DeMarco Murray this offseason, the Cowboys have some big cleats to fill in Dallas. The top candidate on that list appears to be third-year running back Joseph Randle. But according to one former player, Randle isn’t even the best running back on the Cowboys roster right now. And the veteran claims to have told him so right to his face!
While co-hosting the podcast titled Talkin’ Cowboys on the team’s official website this week, former offensive lineman Nate Newton had some strong statements to make concerning the team’s current running back competition. Especially when it came to fourth-year back Lance Dunbar outperforming Randle in camp so far.
"“I talked to Joseph [Randle] yesterday. I pulled him to the side at dinner. I said ‘Joseph, I’ve been watching you run. Son, slow down. You got great vision. Slow down. See the hole. Attack (the) hole like you’ve been doing.’ He just kind of looked at me. I said ‘Kinda like 25 is doing right now’. He looked at me and I was like ‘Yeah. He’s out running you right now. Because he’s seeing the hole. He’s taking advantage of the hole.’ [Dunbar], right now, is the best running back out there. He makes more out of his runs than any back out there right now. Whether it’s a tough, short yardage run, whether it’s a big break, he’s making the plays.”"
Although often mentioned as competing for the starting running back position, most seem to believe it’s more of a race between Randle and recent free agent signee Darren McFadden. With Run DMC sidelined due to a hamstring injury, it appears Dunbar has taken full advantage of those extra reps. Especially in Newton’s eyes. But even the three-time Super Bowl winning offensive guard had to admit that the diminutive runner out of North Texas isn’t a workhorse running back.
"“He’s not a 15-20 carry guy.” Newton conceded. “Can he do that for one game? Yes, you can. But he will not be as effective the next game because they are going to knock the tar out of him.”"
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At 5-8, 195 pounds, durability has been an issue with Dunbar. In 2013, a sprained foot forced in to miss the opening game. Later that year, a hamstring injury he suffered in Week Five had him out until Week Eight. Then, during the Cowboys annual Thanksgiving game that season, Dunbar tore his PCL and was placed on injured reserve. While in college, he also suffered a knee injury that cost him half the season back in 2008. And on Wednesday, Dunbar limped off the field three plays into team drills with an apparent ankle injury. Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones doesn’t think it’s a serious injury and the change-of-pace back is considered day-to-day.
In his three seasons in Dallas, Dunbar has shown flashes of potential as a big playmaker. But his health and inconsistent play have limited his opportunities. In 2014, despite playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career, the fourth-year back recorded just 99 total rushing yards and 18 receptions for 217 yards.
Despite his lack of stature, Dunbar is Dallas’ best pass protector at his position. Last season, 87 of his 140 snaps were during passing plays. Because of his pass protection skills, Dunbar actually played 46 more snaps than Randle in 2014. And with special team returner Dwayne Harris now in New York with the Giants, Lance could become the Cowboys primary kick returner as well.
But for all the positive talk about Dunbar, the fourth-year back has never even scored a touchdown in the regular season. His lone score was in the final preseason game during his rookie year. So maybe we should all temper our expectations just a bit.
Despite Dunbar’s potential and excellent practice play, there has been little pay off in the regular season. So, this is likely the last chance for the 25-year old to prove he belongs in Dallas. As no other team signed him to an offer sheet this offseason, the Cowboys re-signed the restricted free agent to a one-year, $1.542 million deal in late April. If Dunbar can’t string together a few good performances soon, Dallas could simply elect to move on at season’s end.