Keon Lattimore: The Inside Track?

IRVING, Tex. - Mini-camps like the one held this weekend at Valley Ranch are filled with players like Keon Lattimore — players who were productive but not dominant, whose teams were good but not great, trying to extend the dreams they share with so many other young players of earning a living playing the game they love.

Lattimore, the ex-Maryland running back whose appearance at the Cowboys' rookie mini-camp thrust him into an already-crowded backfield that includes Pro Bowler Marion Barber and a pair of draft choices, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, has a couple of attributes that just might separate him from the throng of also-rans. He has the advantage of the wisdom gleaned from the long NFL career of his half-brother, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

Even more, he says, he benefits from having played for Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen, a former NFL offensive coordinator whose Terrapins operate in a pro-style offense.

"Things have gone well," Lattimore said. "Even in the film room, I've felt like I'm picking everything up pretty well, and that's thanks to Coach Friedgen and the pro-style offense he runs at Maryland. What he does there is pretty complex, so if you can run that system, you can learn a pro system."

Lattimore is more of a power back than a speed back, running for 665 yards as the Terps' main ball carrier last year but reaching the end zone 13 times. The 5-11, 222-pound runs hard between the tackles, and with an aggression that evokes images of his half-brother. Growing up in Lakeland, Fla., he followed Lewis' Miami Hurricanes and the Cowboys, so when Dallas showed interest, it made his post-draft decision relatively easy.

"A lot of teams talked to me, and showed interest, but Dallas stayed in contact the most," Lattimore said. "I talked to probably eight other teams, but they wanted me the most, and growing up a Cowboys fan, this is where I wanted to be."

Lattimore allows that the odds might be long for him to crack the Dallas roster, but he sounds undaunted by the challenge before him.

"You never know," he said. "I'm no stranger to competition. The one thing I can promise is that I'm not going to let someone outwork me. If they're going to get rid of me, I'm going to make it a hard decision, because hard work never goes unnoticed."

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