Commentary

Joseph Randle should provide boost

Rookie RB gives Cowboys quality insurance should DeMarco Murray go down

Updated: May 8, 2013, 9:04 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

When the Dallas Cowboys open their three-day rookie minicamp Friday, one rookie needs to demand immediate attention: running back Joseph Randle.

[+] EnlargeJoseph Randle
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoseph Randle scored 38 rushing touchdowns over his last two seasons at Oklahoma State and should provide a boost to the Cowboys' run game.

Yes, DeMarco Murray is the starter at running back.

For now.

Murray emerged as a quality player capable of running inside and outside the tackles. But durability has been an issue. Murray missed three games in his rookie season and wasn't able to go in six games last year, raising concerns around Valley Ranch about his long-term future.

It's one of the main reasons the Cowboys drafted Randle out of Oklahoma State.

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. Everyone is responsible, from the offensive line to the tight ends, fullback, running back and playcaller.

The Cowboys didn't improve the offensive line in free agency. But they did in the draft. Dallas moved down from No. 18 to No. 31 and selected center/guard Travis Frederick with its first pick.

The swapping of draft picks was certainly scrutinized outside Valley Ranch. Did the Cowboys get enough value in the trade? Was Frederick worth a first-round pick? Whatever opinion you have, the Cowboys feel like they upgraded the offensive line with Frederick.

There's also the expectation that the line will get better with another season under line coach Bill Callahan.

Adding Randle to the mix should help, as well.

In his last season at Oklahoma State, Randle rushed for 1,417 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had 38 rushing touchdowns over his last two seasons.

Randle gives the Cowboys a reliable backup should anything happen to Murray. That luxury is something they didn't have last season. Felix Jones, who is still looking for work, was nicked up for most of the season, playing with two sore knees and assorted other ailments. The Cowboys didn't have enough confidence in Lance Dunbar or Phillip Tanner to give them starter's carries when Murray was hurt.

Murray was everything to the Cowboys' run attack, and when he went down, so did the numbers.

Running backs coach Skip Peete was relieved of his duties in the offseason. Jones, who became a free agent, wasn't tendered a new contract. Upgrading the offensive line to improve the run game became a point of emphasis at Valley Ranch.

There are no guarantees with Randle, but he gives the Cowboys hope that things will improve.

"The NFL is a two-back system now, so guys need other guys to come in," Randle said after he was drafted. "And you don't want to drop the tempo off much, so I think we'll work well together. I'm just going to come in and work hard and see where that gets me."

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."

Murray has no problem offering Randle his support and acknowledges the NFL is turning into a two-back league, but he isn't going to back down from a challenge from the rookie.

"Whether it's getting carries or catching it, I just want to be on the field," Murray said.

He will be if he stays healthy. If not, the Cowboys have his replacement ready.

Calvin Watkins covers the Houston Rockets and the NBA for ESPN.com. He joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers as well as colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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