Roughly four weeks after coming to the Dallas Cowboys in a trade from the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 6, former Texas A&M star Christine Michael might finally be added to the mix at running back.
Michael has received reps with the starters in practice this week for the first time and is being prepped for game-day duty Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
The Cowboys still have not made a final decision and are looking for ways to take four running backs to the game so Michael can join Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden on the 46-man roster.
“We’re always keeping competition for the playing time,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We decide tomorrow, at the latest, Saturday, what we’ll do. He’s been getting a few more reps this week in practice with the first group, so that’s good to see him work with our first group and other guys. He’s making a lot of progress. I think he is doing a great job.”
Michael spent the first few weeks learning the offense and running with the scout team. He has remained patient but also eagerly waiting for his number to be called.
“It feels good. First-team reps always feel good,” Michael said. “Just looking to go in there and help contribute as much as possible. It’s outstanding to get those reps and I feel good about it. Physically I feel like I’ve been ready. It’s a lot of plays. I had to get my plays down, which have been coming along pretty well. Study pretty much every day. I get in my books every day. But for the most part, man, just looking to go out there and have fun.”
The decision to possibly add Michael to the mix at running back is not because the Cowboys are unhappy with the production they are getting from Randle, McFadden and Dunbar. It’s because at 5-foot-10, 221 pounds, Michael brings size and a physical style the others don’t possess.
And considering the eight- and nine-man fronts the Cowboys are expecting to get with backup quarterback Brandon Weeden in for an injured Tony Romo — a situation that limited the offense in the second half of last Sunday’s 39-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons — Michael could serve as a hammer for the box defenses.
“I think he brings a different style,” running back coach Gary Brown said. “He is more a short squatty, power-type back with good feet and good explosion. You would like to have a guy with that type of build to take on that eighth man to make him miss or run over him. If you are a good running team, you are going to get eight in the box. You got to be able to have that back to make that guy miss. It will be a nice little mix for us.”
Again, the key is figuring out the game-day roster. Because Dunbar, who leads the team with 21 catches for 215 yards, plays such a huge role in the passing game out of the backfield as well as being split out wide, the Cowboys could go short at receiver. Rookie Lucky Whitehead could be the odd man out. He has played only 13 snaps at receiver and none on special teams.
“That is certainly one way of looking at it,” Linehan said. “Lance does give us versatility at running back and certain aspects of our passing game, obviously, just him being on the field playing some positions that might be receiver oriented. I think it just kind of depends where you are all over on the roster. Some weeks it fits because you’re looking for somebody who can maybe help you in a certain situation. That’s part of getting creative with that roster.”