By Matthew Postins
The Dallas Cowboys started Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on May 21, which means competition for one of the 80 spots at Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard, CA, has begun. For the next several days RattleandHumSports.com will break down each position, determine who’s in competition and who you should keep an eye on the next few months. We’ll update this again after the team’s mandatory mini-camp in mid-June.
Projected depth chart: RB (1) DeMarco Murray, (2) Joseph Randle, (3) Lance Dunbar, (4) Phillip Tanner, (5) Kendial Lawrence. FB (1) Lawrence Vickers.
Current health: Murray appears to be fully recovered from the maladies that struck him last season. Randle was limited during rookie camp with a thumb injury. Vickers is recovering from back surgery and isn’t expected to participate fully in workouts until training camp.
Last year: Murray was the No. 1 back, but missed six games due to injury. He rushed for 663 yards and 4 touchdowns in 10 games. The Cowboys parted ways with Felix Jones after the 2012 season, their first-round pick five seasons ago. Dunbar and Tanner showed flashes of talent, but aside from the Cowboys’ run-heavy performance against Baltimore – in which the team rushed for a season-high 227 yards – they were non-factors offensively. Vickers was underutilized in both blocking and pass catching.
Competition scale (1 being no competition and 5 being highly competitive): 3.
Why?: Murray, without question, is the No. 1 back. Randle, who gained more than 2,600 rushing yards and scored 38 times at Oklahoma State, would seem to be the clear No. 2 back, despite the thumb injury and his fifth-round draft position. The Cowboys see him as a similar back to Murray in size and speed and are hopeful Randle can be more durable. Dunbar, Tanner and Lawrence all have intriguing qualities. Dunbar has versatility, Tanner runs with toughness and Lawrence has pure speed. But all have debits, starting with the fact that they’re not considered big enough to take a consistent NFL pounding.
There is no competition at fullback for Vickers, but his health and his cap figure of approximately $1 million will figure prominently in whether he makes the team or not. One could argue the Cowboys could use that money elsewhere and that Vickers isn’t really a fit for the scheme, as the Cowboys don’t employ a fullback or a power running formation as often as they have in the past.
Player to watch: Lawrence. If the Cowboys want a No. 3 back with sprinter speed, Lawrence is certainly worth a look. The undrafted free agent comes to the Cowboys from Missouri, where he rushed for more than 2,000 yards, scored 21 touchdowns and caught 42 passes for his career. He possesses consistent 4.40 speed in the 40, and he ran as low as 4.33 in the 40 during the player evaluation period. Teams passed on him for two reasons. First, there was his size. At 5-foot-9, 194 pounds, he’s a little undersized to be a three-down back and one could question whether Lawrence can keep his top end speed if he puts on weight. There are also questions about whether he can pass protect, a key responsibility for a third-down back. Missouri’s system didn’t really provide Lawrence much opportunity to do so. Still, Lawrence tore up the rookie camp defense and he’s worth watching as OTAs unfold.
What they’re working for: Most teams take five backs to training camp, as it’s necessary to handle a training camp workload. The belief here is that all five will get to Oxnard. Their worst enemy will be the waiver wire and whether another NFL team releases a player in which the Cowboys are interested. Vickers likely makes it to camp if he’s healthy.
Next: Wide receivers and tight ends.