- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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So much of the offseason attention around the Dallas Cowboys has focused on Tony Romo, and that's understandable. He's the quarterback, and one of the most intensely scrutinized quarterbacks in the league. He signed a big contract extension, he's taking a larger role in the planning and operation of the offense, and the team used its second-round and third-round picks on exciting new receiving options for him.
But as important as he is, Romo is not the extent of the Cowboys' offense. Or at least, he shouldn't be. Calvin Watkins has a look at fifth-round pick Joseph Randle, the running back from Oklahoma State, and the importance he could have in repairing a part of the Dallas offense that was a far bigger problem last season than Romo:
The night Randle was drafted, the Cowboys' front office -- mainly Jerry and Stephen Jones, and backed by coach Jason Garrett -- said the team had a potential starter.
Of the seven draft picks, Randle, taken in the fifth round (151st overall), could have the biggest impact.
The Cowboys' rushing attack finished 31st in the NFL last season with only 79.1 yards per game and 3.6 yards per attempt. Their 1,265 yards on the ground totaled 144 less than the previous Cowboys low in a 16-game season and represents a drop-off of 542 yards from the 2011 season.
As Calvin points out in his story, the Cowboys' running game last season relied too much on the health of starting running back DeMarco Murray, which is not reliable. Murray is a very productive back when he's on the field, but it was vital this offseason to find someone durable to back him up. Felix Jones didn't fit the bill, so he's out looking for work and replaced by Randle, who didn't miss a game during his college career.
Randle might be the force the Cowboys need should their starting running back go down again, and he's confident he can be a complete back.
"Being versatile," Randle said. "I do everything well: running, blocking. I take pride in my blocking. I take pride in being able to catch, and I take pride in being able to make tough yards and make people miss one-on-one. That's just my game in a nutshell right there."
The Cowboys spent their first-round pick on an offensive lineman, Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, who should help improve the run game himself whether he starts at center or one of the guard spots. Whoever the running back is on a given play or a given week, he'll need better blocking up front than the Cowboys have provided in recent seasons, just as Romo will. The Cowboys began the offseason by overhauling their defense with a new coordinator and a new 4-3 alignment up front. But recently they've turned their attention to their deficiencies on offense, and the run game is one of those that needed more attention than I think a lot of people realized.