There was probably more daylight in a Pennsylvania coal mine than behind the disjointed offensive line Jason Garrett trotted out at Levi's Stadium on Sunday night, but the Dallas Cowboys running backs made the most of it. Who did "almost-well'' in the Cowboys' 23-6 loss to the 49ers?
Cowboys COO Stephen Jones made no bones about the club having high expectations for Darren McFadden. When talking with our guy Keith Russell from CBS11 on the Cowboys TV pregame show, Jones made clear the team's belief in the eight-year veteran.
"We do have high expectations for Darren," said Jones. "That's why we brought him in here. We know certainly he's a big play guy. He has some homerun speed, and we know if we give him some running lanes, then I think he can take advantage of them."
Well, McFadden had very few running lanes with left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Ron Leary, and right guard Zack Martin missing the contest due to injury prevention. McFadden only totted the rock three times for four yards for 1.3 yards per carry. Even the lone pass he had was for a measly three yards.
Said Jones: "At the same time, Darren is a tough guy. And he's not afraid to run in there between the tackles and he'll certainly take some people with him. So, we're looking for some positive things. It will be short duty tonight, but it'll be good to see him."
"I was going out there with the mindset that I was playing a full game," McFadden said. "That's the way I approach it. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to be in every play. And that's the way I approach it."
McFadden didn't get to see a lot of duty, and that is a good thing when you consider the oft-injured first-round pick for the Oakland Raiders in 2008 left Levi's Stadium unscathed. However, Joseph Randle, the heir apparent to chair the running-back-by-committee to replace DeMarco Murray, did see more action compared to McFadden. The fifth-rounder from 2013 carried the ball seven times for 30 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry behind the Dallas second-team offensive lines.
Jo Randle changing direction https://t.co/VGjsB44VeA— Patrick Conn (@DraftCowboys) August 24, 2015
Aside from the fact owner Jerry Jones has been promoting Randle since early December of last year, Randle ought to be the lead back in this competition. First off, the front office and coaching staff believe football is a young man's game, and Randle is young. Second, Randle has burst, vision, and good lateral movement. On his first carry of the game, an ostensibly doomed carry off the left end, Randle juked and cut the other direction going around the right side of the field. He turned what would have been a one-yard gain at best into a six-yard gain, thus showing his ability to create when clearly nothing is there. (He also had a holding penalty as a pass-protector.)
Lance Dunbar saw his first action of the preseason since injuring his right ankle early in August. Ever wondered how Romo got a negative yard on his stat line for the entire night? Blame Dunbar, or more accurately the field at Levi's Stadium. On third-and-10 on the opening drive, Dunbar caught a swing pass. In an effort to make a 49er defender miss, the turf gave out from under Dunbar and helped drop him for a one-yard loss. The former Birdville High product later caught a four-yard pass from Brandon Weeden, but the verdict was Dunbar failed to show his scat back talents in Santa Clara.
Then we have the cast of training camp fodder known as Ben Malena, Michael Hill, and Gus Johnson. Out of the three, Johnson had a good night with three carries for 24 yards in the fourth quarter as the tertiary players were on the field for both teams. He even lowered his shoulder to take oncoming defenders, as if to state his shoulder injury from last week in San Diego weren't going to discourage him from contact. The only problem with Johnson is the order in which he appeared on the depth chart against the 49ers. He got in the game only after Malena and Hill got their touches in the second and third quarters.
Malena and Hill each had three carries; Malena went for 10 yards while Hill went for 16. Malena's place on the roster at this point is to help provide kick return options, while Hill is more of a placeholder as the team needs to keep its training camp roster filled out. Expect these guys to be cut from the Cowboys when the club has to shave off its roster from 90 to 75, or beyond that. ... all of which can happen after they are back to work in camp today in Oxnard with McFadden continuing to make his bid ...
Right now, the running back situation is still very murky. By this time last season, Murray had already carried eight times for 34 yards (even though he bobbled a shotgun hand-off from Romo that resulted in a touchdown the other way). As a Cowboys fan, you had your doubts a year ago hoped the fumble was a one-off (it wasn't). Today, it is Aug. 24, and the Cowboys don't have a clear-cut chairman of the committee to replace Murray. This is a big issue that needs to be resolved against the Minnesota Vikings as the club seeks its first preseason win since 2013.
It's a competition in which doing "almost-well enough'' might have to do. And at least we have three relatively healthy competitors in the starting gates.