When Joseph Randle’s name comes up, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett sometimes has to hold back a bit of a smile.
The thought of the rookie makes him shake his head.
“That’s Randle,” Garrett said in training camp.
A 21-year-old from Oklahoma State, whose confidence in his football skills but baffling inability to remember the words to a song amuses Garrett, and who most likely will be the Cowboys’ featured back on Sunday in a game for the NFC East Division lead at Philadelphia.
“He’s a really good kid,” fellow rookie Travis Frederick said. “He’s a funny kid. He’s kind of light-hearted, but he comes in and he works. So I can see where Coach Garrett gets something like that.”
But the funny kid is going to be relied on for serious work in place of DeMarco Murray, who is expected to miss the game this week with a sprained left knee.
The Cowboys drafted Randle for just this purpose, to provide insurance in case Murray had to miss games because of injury for a third consecutive season.
“He’s a guy that’s played in big games at the college level,” Garrett said. “He’s had success. And he’s come in here, and he’s worked very hard to understand what we’re asking him to do, and he’s done a good job with each of the opportunities we’ve given him.”
This will be the biggest opportunity yet.
Randle got the first 11 carries of his NFL career last week. The Cowboys had planned to get him some action, regardless. But Murray’s injury accelerated things.
“He did some positive things,” Garrett said. “He was strong running the football, but he took care of the ball well. He was in some of those situations at the end of the game where it’s difficult. They have eight- and nine- and 10-man fronts up there, trying to get the ball back. I thought he handled himself well there. It didn’t seem too big for him.”
Why would it? Randle smiled at the idea.
“Playing running back is something I’ve been doing for a long time,” he said with a smile to the reporters who crowded around his locker this week. “Football is football. Once I got here, I was like, ‘Dang, this is still football.’
“It’s really no different. It’s still football. I’m comfortable playing football.”
Stage fright? Yeah, right.
“The only time I’ve seen him get stage fright is when he had to get up in front of the group and sing,” Frederick said and smiled, remembering the rookie initiations from training camp. “He didn’t do so well there. But I can’t really talk because I didn’t do so well, either. But I think that’s the only time.”
So he can’t sing very well. Hey, not every rookie can. But most rookies can at least remember the words to their college fight song, or any song, even one of their choice. The rookies can sing anything they want for the veterans, but Randle never could get the handle on any song.
Garrett laughs at that story, and his other Randle story — the one about the time the team went down to the beach in California during training camp and Randle, who Garrett figures must have never been in the ocean, jumped in like it was a swimming pool.
“The water could not have been more than 12 inches deep, and he jumps up and goes bang,” Garrett said, relating the story the next day at camp. “It’s rocks. It’s sand. It ain’t deep. He kind of played it off and got going again, but I am not so sure he knew what he was getting into.”
Smiling big, Garrett said, “Typical Randle.” Then, “I say that with affection.”
Maybe not knowing what you’re getting into can work for Randle. The experience in Philadelphia will also be an unknown for him.
“I honestly don’t know much about Philly, besides the preparation that we’ve been doing this week,” he said. “I didn’t really follow Philly as a kid. They told me that they’re going to play Rocky and stuff. Coach Garrett said that. Other than that, I really don’t know much about that atmosphere.”
So has he seen the Rocky movies?
“I’ve seen every Rocky movie,” he said. “I might watch them tonight because you all brought that up.”
That got a laugh from reporters. They followed up: what’s your favorite?
“When they go to Russia. That’s probably my favorite one.”
That’s Rocky IV.