That’s not to suggest that Linehan, the Dallas Cowboys' new playcaller, will feature Dunbar nearly as much as he did Bush with the Detroit Lions last season. But Linehan will use Dunbar, the change-of-pace back behind Pro Bowler DeMarco Murray, in a lot of the same ways as he did Bush.
Which is to say the Cowboys plan to use Dunbar in a lot of different ways.
“I’ll tell you what: The guy has a great knack for playing the running game position, but it’s also very natural for him to line up in multiple locations,” Linehan said. “You like to have one of those guys at running back that can maybe line up where a receiver is going to be, do those things, because you’re not advertising sending in all receivers.
“Defenses figure it out pretty quick that you’re pretty limited in the run game when you do some of your schemes and don’t have a running back out there. We want to still do some of those things and I think he gives us a versatility of having him in there and run it, run the same plays we do with DeMarco in the game but also having that ability to put him in different places and be an asset for us in the passing game.”
The Cowboys had high hopes for Dunbar last summer, too, but he suffered a foot injury in the preseason that interrupted his progress. He provided a glimpse of his potential in the Thanksgiving Day win over the Oakland Raiders, gaining 82 yards on 12 carries and catching a pass for another 12 yards, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in that game.
It’s a good bet that Dunbar, who is in his third season after being undrafted out of North Texas, will put up much bigger numbers this season than he did in 2013 (30 carries for 150 yards and seven catches for 59 yards). His receptions total should multiply as the Cowboys try to take advantage of his natural route-running ability, good hands and elusiveness in space.
“You always want to give a guy like that chances,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Obviously Line 1 in that is you want to get them doing things they do well. When you talk about a guy like Dunbar, he does a lot of things well. He can run the football inside and outside, he can run routes out of the backfield and you can move him out as a receiver as well. You just want to give him chances and I think we were doing that last year up until his injury and we’ll continue to do that. He’s a good football player.”
Dunbar isn’t Reggie Bush, but he can be a reasonable facsimile in a limited role for a playcaller who proved last season that he has the creativity to utilize that type of versatile back.
“That sounds good,” Dunbar said. “Who wouldn’t like to do what Reggie Bush did?”
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Dunbar won’t get to do as much as the Lions’ featured back, but being “Bush Light” wouldn’t be a bad role.