- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle, a fifth-round pick who rushed for 164 yards as a rookie last season, opened his conversation with a reporter by declaring that this would be the only time he spoke to the media this season.
Told that could subject him to a weekly fine of $25,000, per NFL rules, Randle quickly reconsidered.
"Now since you said that, I guess I'll talk to y'all," Randle said. "Yeah, that's pretty tough. Nobody wants to play for free, but I'd rather not talk to the media."
Randle would rather just focus on doing his job. Or, for now, on keeping his job.
The Cowboys probably won't have the luxury of keeping four tailbacks due to their need for depth at several defensive positions. DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar are roster locks, leaving Randle and Ryan Williams competing for the final spot. (It's also possible that the Cowboys could deal one of the backs competing for the No. 3 job for depth at another position.)
Williams, the former Arizona Cardinals second-round pick who signed with the Cowboys this summer, raised eyebrows with his impressive running late in Saturday's preseason game. But Randle, who the Cowboys gave a third-round grade coming out of Oklahoma State, has performed better on the whole since camp started and has consistently been ahead of Williams on the depth chart.
"Joe Randle right now is really playing outstanding," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 FM The Fan. "That's not an exaggeration."
Randle, who averaged only 3.0 yards per carry last season, has gained 91 yards on 20 carries in two preseason games, getting a lot of his work against the San Diego Chargers' starters. He looks more decisive and more elusive than he did last season.
That's a result of being better prepared and more comfortable.
"I feel like I'm bigger, I'm stronger, I'm smarter," Randle said. "I'm a year smarter in the playbook. I think that's all things that help me play fast. Now, I'm just working on playing fast every play I'm out there. That comes with practice."
It's not just Randle's running that has impressed the Cowboys' coaches. He has shown significant improvement as a pass blocker and on special teams, too.
"He has matured in a lot of ways," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He has run the ball well. He has protected well. He has showed up on special teams. He has become the player we thought he was coming out of the school -- a well-rounded halfback who can contribute on teams as a third runner."
With a legitimate challenger behind him, Randle's play has spoken volumes this summer.