When the Dallas Cowboys take the field against the San Diego Chargers tonight, the final score doesn’t matter. Preseason football is not about wins and losses; it’s about not getting anyone hurt and position battles. One of the key position battles for the Cowboys is at running back.
The Cowboys have their unquestioned starter in DeMarco Murray. Murray is coming off a career year in which he averaged five yards per carry. The problem with Murray is he is fragile. He was injury-prone in college and that has carried over to the NFL. When it comes to Murray it isn’t if he will get injured; it’s when will the injury occur and how many games will he miss. The other question for the Cowboys is when Murray gets hurt, who starts in his place? Dallas hopes to begin answering that question tonight.
The second-most talented RB on the roster is Lance Dunbar, but he is not built to be an every down back. That leaves Dallas with three legitimate options to win the backup job.
The first option is 2013 fifth-round draft pick Joseph Randle. Randle was underwhelming in his rookie season, carrying the ball 54 times for 164 yards and two TDs. If Randle fails to show improvement this preseason he has little chance to be entrusted with the backup role and could be in danger of not making the team at all.
Ryan Williams was highly touted coming out of Virginia Tech, and the Arizona Cardinals selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft. On his first carry of the preseason, Williams ruptured his patella tendon and missed the entire season. In 2012, Williams returned and had a subpar season, rushing the ball 58 times for 164 yards. Williams battled injuries again in 2013 before being released earlier this year. Dallas signed Williams in hopes that he can find a way to stay healthy and regain the form that made him so intriguing to teams coming out of college.
The final candidate to win the backup RB job is undrafted rookie Ben Malena. Malena rushed for 808 yards last season for the Texas A&M Aggies. He is viewed as the longest shot to win the backup RB gig, but I have a hunch that he is going to really turn some heads in the preseason. I’m not saying that Malena will win the job, but given his competition, he may not be as long of a shot as some might think.