Dallas Cowboys: Tonight’s fourth running back winner will impact season


Tonight’s battle for the Dallas Cowboys’ fourth string running back seems irrelevant to the 2015 season. The winner will miss the final roster and join the practice squad.

So what makes the showdown between Ben Malena and Gus Johnson carry weight if the survivor won’t make the roster? No running back above him has proven reliable.

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Darren McFadden suffered a laundry list of injuries over his seven NFL seasons. The talented veteran missed 29 of 112 (26%) possible games in Oakland.

He played all 16 games only once (2014) in his career. In Dallas, McFadden has already missed time nursing hamstrings.

Lance Dunbar has been just as flimsy over three pro seasons in Dallas. The shifty scat back was sidelined 11 of 48 (23%) possible games. It’s naive to assume both backs will play a full season.

Joseph Randle has yet to be injury prone, though 53 carries a year is far from demanding. It’s hard to tell how his body will endure 15-20 carries per game. And then there’s the off-the-field behavior concerns.

During the regular season at least one of these three backs will miss time. It will likely be more than one player (not at same time), and for more than a game or two.

Dallas could carry just two halfbacks on Sunday, using fullback Tyler Clutts as a third option. But that gamble becomes dangerous if Randle or McFadden are sidelined.

If the remaining early down back went down in that game, the Cowboys would then be stranded with only a third down back (Dunbar) and fullback (Clutts).

Tonight’s winner between Malena and Johnson has a decent shot of joining the 53 man roster during 2015. In that case, he’ll likely assume relief carries on Sunday.


BEN MALENA (5’8, 200) – Texas A&M

Second year back was signed by Dallas as undrafted rookie in 2014

Waived by Dallas in 2014 and joined Houston Texans practice squad

Signed with Dallas a second time in August 2015

College stats:

320 carries, 1,618 yards, 5.1 ypc, and 23 TD’s

Pro day 40 yard dash – 4.54

2015 preseason:

6 carries, 24 yards, 4.0 ypc, 0 TD (San Francisco and Minnesota)

GUS JOHNSON (5’10, 215) – Stephen F. Austin

Undrafted rookie and 2014 Southland Conference Player of the Year

College stats:

631 carries, 3,892 yards, 6.2 ypc, and 51 TD’s

Pro day 40 yard dash – 4.62

2015 preseason:

21 carries, 71 yards, 3.4 ypc, 1 TD (All 3 games)


Johnson is already the more effective runner in both college and preseason. He’s a better back than Malena, but his size separates Johnson from all Dallas runners.

215 solid pounds packed into a 5’10 frame makes for a bigger, more explosive back. The power back element is one slightly missing from Dallas’ trio of roster backs.

While Randle and McFadden have decent size and play with respectable force, neither is a ram type built for short yardage. Johnson provides a bit more slam to his jam.

From college and two preseasons in the NFL, Malena has shown little to stir excitement. He only broke 552 yards once, and never topped 808 yards in college.

Dallas waived Malena last summer denying a practice squad spot. The main reason he was added this preseason is Johnson suffered a should injury that limited practice time.

Tonight Johnson is poised to claim his practice squad spot and show Malena the door. Unfortunately, I also expect Johnson to join the main roster in 2015 due to injuries.

Johnson adds a hint of promise with his unique skill set. Get on board and enjoy the ride Cowboys fans. Gus “The Bus” is primed and ready to plow the Texans tonight.

Next: Preseason molehills conquered during the quest for six