The running back position stands to look drastically different than it did just a month ago.
Lance Dunbar’s torn ACL has sent him to the injured reserve, and the Dallas Cowboys have used the bye week to bolster their numbers by signing rookie Rod Smith from Seattle (more on him below).
All of a sudden Christine Michael, acquired in a trade with the Seahawks a mere six weeks ago, looks like a veteran member of the group.
To hear it from the teams coaching staff, Michael may begin seeing a veteran’s snap count, as well.
“I think we’re going to give him an opportunity to go out and do some more snaps. I think he’s earned it,” said running backs coach Gary Brown yesterday (Thursday). “He’s worked hard, he’s been everything we’ve expected off the field, and he’s a student of the game. We’re looking forward to seeing him play.”
Michael has been the topic of much speculation during his time with the team – especially as the Dallas Cowboys running game has struggled during the three-game losing streak. But that talk hasn’t amounted much during his first five games in Dallas.
The former second-round draft pick was inactive for the first three games of the season. He functioned as the short-yardage back in Week 4 and Week 5, carrying once for a one-yard loss against New Orleans and once again for a six-yard gain against New England.
“Ever since he’s gotten here we’ve tried to move him up,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We gave him some short yardage opportunities and we’ve kind of tried to get him acclimated to what we’re doing.”
Asked about Michael’s acclimation to the offense over the past month, Brown wasn’t shy with an assessment of what he thinks the third-year veteran is capable of.
“He can do more things. I think the thing is that he had to learn and he had to feel comfortable with it,” he said. “I think he’s where he needs to be, and we want to take the reins off him and let him rock.”
It’s hard to say what that means until the Cowboys return from the bye week, but their running game could use some help. Dallas is ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 106 yards per game. Leading rusher Joseph Randle is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, and Darren McFadden is sitting at just 3.5 yards per carry.
A lot of that has to do with the Cowboys’ passing attack, to be sure. The struggles to throw the ball without Tony Romo in the lineup have led to a lot of stacked fronts, as opponents have used eight and nine-man fronts to subdue the ground game.
As Garrett has pointed out, the Cowboys faced those types of front in the past and fought through them. Given the power that Michael brings to the table, Brown said he could only help.
“I think it will – not to say that the other guys don’t have power, but I think he probably has a little bit more power,” he said. “We’ve got to take advantage of that. Obviously with an eight-man front, it’s going to be a little tighter, but we have to make sure we’re taking advantage of the holes that are there, because the O-Line is cracking the holes open, and we’ve got to get in and get out of them quickly.”
WAIVER CLAIM: Meet your new Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith
The bye week has been anything but a slow time for new Dallas Cowboys running back Rod Smith.
Claimed off waivers, Smith took the red-eye flight from Seattle and said he arrived at Valley Ranch about an hour before team meetings yesterday (Thursday) morning. Then he suited up for his first Cowboys practice wearing No. 45.
“This is my home now,” Smith said, “so I’m just ready to work.”
Including Smith, the team once again have four running backs on their 53-man roster along with fullback Tyler Clutts.
Carries appear scarce with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Christine Michael already in the rotation, but the Cowboys like Smith’s ability as a runner as well as on special teams, which would help his chances of being active on game days.
“He’s a guy that we saw on tape who we like,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a big kid, he’s athletic, he’s done some good things for them (Seattle) in the preseason. He’s someone we just want to bring in here and get into the mix.”
Michael also has made the adjustment to Dallas from Seattle, having arrived in a trade after preseason.
“I know C-Mike’s been out here since after preseason and it seems like he’s got a good understanding of things,” Smith said. “When I was in Seattle he was one of the dudes that helped me out and mentored me a lot. I’m just going to try to feed off him and the older guys.”
SCOUTING REPORT: New RB Rod Smith brings the beef to the run game
Name: Rod Smith | Position: RB | College: Ohio State | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 231
Draft: Undrafted in 2015, signed by Seattle
Games Studied: 2015 preseason vs. DEN, KC, SD, OAK
Report: Right off the bat, Smith has rare height and weight for the position.
All of his runs with Seattle were out of the shotgun formation with inside handoffs. I would not say that he has great playing speed or quickness. It takes him time to get going once the ball is in his hands – it’s a long stride that lacks a burst. He doesn’t have short area foot quickness and creativity, as he stumbled on a couple of runs in the open field but managed to keep his balance to finish the run.
Smith did flash some upper and lower body power, but I was surprised he didn’t run over more tacklers on contact due to his size. He did have a nice stiff arm against the Chiefs in the open field that bought him some space.
He’s not a loose hipped runner, but he does have good vision to see the holes and make cuts when necessary. Shows patience as a runner, but it’s really due more to his lack of quickness. There was one carry where he did put the ball on the ground against San Diego where it was a physical finish – but his teammate was able to recover.
I would not call him elusive in the open field, but he did have better carries outside than in. He’s a tall runner, so naturally his pad level is going to be higher than most. The Seahawks used him in the passing game on screens, so he has a feel for how to set up then execute.
Smith’s size helps in pass protection. I can understand why the front office made this claim due to the fact that I feel like he could better downhill player than playing sideways. It’s the same problem that DeMarco Murray has in Philadelphia. Need to get him the ball going toward the line then he has a chance to get going.
Courtesy: Brian Broaddus | Former NFL Scout
ANALYSIS: Local writers thoughts on how to divide running back carries
The Dallas Cowboys are changing the starting quarterback. They’re also switching out left guards.
One position the Cowboys haven’t officially altered but could see a new look next week is running back. The Cowboys have yet find the same success on the ground like they did last year with DeMarco Murray.
The Cowboys just claimed running back Rod Smith off waivers, who was recently cut by the Seahawks.
The club now has four backs on the active roster heading into the next game. Several local writers have weighed in on how they would approach the division of carries amongst the running backs moving forward.
Broaddus: What I have seen from Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden has been disappointing. In Randle I am not seeing that same guy from 2014 that ran the ball like he didn’t know when he was going to get his next carry. Everything from him now is a cutback or a poor-vision hole miss. I have yet to see that violence he played with last season. As far as McFadden, I have to admit I was wrong about him. I thought I would have seen an explosive slasher – instead he has been running like he is looking for a place to go down. He hasn’t been able to create any opportunities and he is playing like he is afraid of getting hurt. It is time to see what Christine Michael can do. I believe for this running game to get going they need to find a back that is a finisher similar to what they had in DeMarco Murray. When this offense was humming – it was because they were able to run the ball no matter how many were in the box. I’m willing to bet with Christine Michael in the lineup this offense can reclaim that identity.
Eatman: The Dallas Cowboys traded for Christine Michael as more of an insurance policy in case these running backs didn’t get the job done. Whether it’s all their fault or not, the job isn’t getting done. And what the offense misses the most is keeping the chains moving with first downs. So for more reasons than one, it just makes sense to switch up the running back spot right now and go to Michael, a player who is stronger, bigger but seemingly just as quick. The offense needs a power back in here and that’s what Michael should provide. If I were getting to divvy up the carries, I would start Michael, use McFadden in the role Dunbar had as a third-down back, and then I would rotate Randle in just like he did last year. So in 2014, you had Murray, Dunbar and Randle. Now, I would go with Michael, McFadden and Randle but I’d probably rotate the 1 & 3 more than we saw last year. Randle is explosive if he’s getting just a handful of carries. And then who knows what Rod Smith can provide but it looks like he’s a possible goal-line and short-yardage option if Michael doesn’t provide that. I don’t like changing just to change, but this is a situation where change is certainly needed.
Helman: Change is good, but I feel like change can be slow on a variety of fronts in the NFL. Yes, the running back position will probably be different when all is said and done against the Giants in 10 days. But I don’t think it’ll be drastically different. It’s hard for me to imagine Christine Michael climbing from one carry per game to becoming this team’s leading rusher. Jason Garrett even alluded to the fact that he still considers Joseph Randle his starter earlier this week. Yes, Randle and McFadden have been disappointing through five weeks. But the Cowboys have now swapped quarterbacks, and they’ve made a change along the offensive line. I’m curious to see how it looks different, but I’d be willing to bet it still looks familiar. I think Michael can bring a spark to this offense, but there’s something to be said for McFadden’s abilities as a receiver – and we now what Randle is capable of in the right situations. I bet when all is said and done, it looks more similar than you’d think: Randle as the lead dog, with key contributions coming behind him.
Phillips: I’m not sure who starts really matters, because at this point, it seems the Cowboys must go with the back who’s producing most over the course of the game. Maybe that’s Joseph Randle, and maybe that’s Christine Michael with Darren McFadden reprising Lance Dunbar’s previous role. I expect Michael to get more than one carry a game going forward, because they need to find out if he can be a difference maker in more than short-yardage situations. Like the rest of the offense, the running game needs a jumpstart. But Randle, in my opinion, has run hard and maximized his carries a lot of the time. Has it been perfect? No, but we’ve seen him get tough yards at times, look comfortable as a receiver and block pretty effectively. Maybe Michael could provide a more physical presence. I will say it’s been difficult to fully evaluate these running backs and the offensive line without the two most important players on offense, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, on the field. Next week I would stick with Randle as the starter, work Michael into the mix more, and adjust accordingly based on performance.
Photo courtesy: Obrien Illustration