The Dallas Cowboys know who their starting running back will be come Sept. 8. Barring the unforeseen, that label belongs to third-year back DeMarco Murray. Beyond him at the position, however, there are question marks. Felix Jones left in the spring for Philadelphia in what he and the Eagles hope can be a career revival. The Cowboys spent a draft pick on Oklahoma State‘s Joseph Randle, and retain Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner from last season’s team. It will be a battle amongst all three of them in deciding who gets that backup spot come September.
Last night, however, Tanner in particular flashed some good ability, and that is a good sign for the Cowboys.
In the new Cowboy offense called by Bill Callahan, the team ran the ball 34 times out of 55 total plays, a stark contrast to last season’s numbers where they threw the ball 303 times more than they ran it. In their 34 attempts last night, Tanner carried the ball 10 times for 59 yards and a touchdown. Though his numbers were second to Randle, who ran for 70 yards on 13 carries, Tanner was particularly impressive in his running style and because he is an unknown.
The 24-year-old, third-year back from Middle Tennessee State ran the ball with purpose, running hard and breaking tackles — really what you would want from a fringe guy trying to gain a bigger role.
Two plays that stood out from Tanner’s performance last night happened early in the second quarter, two plays apart. The first was a hand off to the left side, where he broke three tackles and picked up nine yards. The second play, on a 3rd-and-1 situation, was a run up the middle where he withstood the initial resistance by the defensive line, and powered his way through for about five more yards — losing his helmet in the process.
Tanner kept running after his helmet came off, but the play was stopped, per the new league rule that deems a play finished when a player loses his helmet. It was a sequence that not only showed his ability, but also a mindset of tough running.
It’s only the preseason, and you’ll get those people that say it doesn’t matter. Sure, it doesn’t matter to the starters, doesn’t matter at the beginning of September, but it does matter to the younger guys. It’s a chance for them to show the coaching staff that they belong in the NFL, that they have what it takes to nab a coveted roster spot.
For Tanner, he made a strong impression last night that he could win that backup spot.