Dallas Cowboys: Don’t Assume Joseph Randle Will Be Dominant


The biggest question facing the 2015 Dallas Cowboys’ season is whether a career back up can fill the role left by one of the games best running backs. Fans must hope that the Joseph Randle as starting running back experiment is more successful than the most notable attempt the Cowboys made to promote a career backup to starter.

In 2003, just as in 2015, the Cowboys had to make a difficult decision at running back. It had become obvious that the future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith was on his last legs so the team released the greatest runner in franchise history.

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And as they have done this year, the Cowboys handed the starting tailback position to a career backup, Troy Hambrick. Much like Randle, Hambrick had been impressive as a reserve rushing for 4.0 yards per carry in 2002.

Smith’s final season in Dallas was the last of three consecutive 5-11 seasons that would lead to the firing of head coach Dave Campo after the season. Meanwhile, the lack of a solid offensive line and terrible quarterback play contributed to the NFL’s all-time leading rusher having a mediocre year far below his standards.

In 2002, Smith ran for 975 yard (3.8 per carry) the fewest since his rookie season and five touchdowns. When new head coach, Bill Parcells took over Smith joined the Arizona Cardinals and Troy Hambrick was handed the starting job.

Unfortunately, Hambrick at age 27 was only able to replicate what the 33-year-old Smith had done in 2002. In fact, the similarities between Smith’s 2002 season and Hambrick’s 2003 season are startling.

Hambrick ran for 972 yards (3.5 per carry) and five touchdowns. However, the Cowboys were expecting more from Hambrick than he delivered during his first season as a starter and he was not on the team in 2004.

The lesson here is that one cannot assume that a backup running back’s numbers will translate into further success when he takes the lion’s share of the carries.

For the sake of fairness, the Cowboys are not asking Randle to duplicate the amazing season of last year’s starting tailback DeMarco Murray.   However, many assume that the former Oklahoma State Cowboy will be as productive as a starter as he was coming off the bench in 2014.

Randle averaged an absurd 6.7 yards per carry last season but he benefited from running against defenses that had been worn out by Murray and the Cowboys’ offensive line. If he were to receive 250 carries this season and maintain his yards per carry average, Randle would gain 1,675 yards.

That simply is not going to happen. As a starter, Hambrick saw his yards per carry drop by half of a yard and it is certain that Randle’s will as well.

What will make Randle’s job much more difficult is a number of new responsibilities. He is no longer the change of pace back coming in to blow past a tired defense.

Rather, Joseph Randle will be asked to hammer away at fresh defenses in the first half with runs of three yards or fewer. He will also have to catch the ball more often adding to his workload. (Murray caught 57 passes last year)

Likewise, No. 21 will have the responsibility of picking up blitzes or free rushers putting even more strain on his body The workload facing Randle is going to be a significant increase over what he has been asked to do in his career.

This is not to suggest that Randle will have a poor season and be as ineffective as Hambrick was. Instead, we must temper our expectations of Randle.

I have heard fans assume that Randle will be a star running back because he has electrified at times with long runs and dazzling plays. Even some members of the media are taking it for granted that he will seamlessly transition into a high quality NFL running back.

In 2002, many were eager to move on from Smith because a younger and bigger running back had impressive moments when spelling the Cowboys’ legend. However, the task proved too much for Hambrick to handle leaving Dallas with yet another hole to fill.

Randle must prove that he is capable of being an all-around back who can take the beating that a starting running back receives. Weighing almost 20 pounds less than Murray, Randle must also prove that he can remain healthy.

The running back rotation centers on Randle. You can almost guarantee that this year’s backup running back, Darren McFadden will miss time due to injury as he has in every year of his career and the third back on the roster, Lance Dunbar is the smallest and least experienced of the three.

Randle will not set the single season franchise rushing record as Murray did last season. Fans expecting him to dominate in the manner that Murray did will be disappointed because Randle isn’t that type of back.

However, Randle can be a success if he is a steady back that performs all of the tasks expected of a starting back. Fans would be wise to approach 2015 with no assumptions about Randle giving him a blank slate on which he can write his Cowboys legacy

As Troy Hambrick proved in 2003, past results are not always an accurate indication of future performance.

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