Dallas Cowboys: Can Gus Johnson Make The Roster?


Could Stephen F. Austin running back Gus Johnson make the Dallas Cowboys final roster for the 2015 regular season?

This idea is beginning to look like a possibility.

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According to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys may very well have to start the former Lumberjacks runner against the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.

The reality is that Dallas is way short on healthy running back s at the moment.

Apparent regular-season starter Joseph Randle is nursing an injury that’s not expected to be serious, but this hip issue combined with the fact that the Cowboys won’t play many starters in the first preseason game eliminates the former Oklahoma State ball-carrier, along with a host of other players.

In addition to Randle, free-agent acquisition Darren McFadden, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, has yet to do anything in training camp as he’s dealing with a hamstring pull. The eighth-year veteran currently sits on “physically unable to perform,” or P.U.P. list, until further notice.

Continuing down the running back depth chart, Lance Dunbar is now dealing with a sprained ankle sustained last week and his status for the Chargers game is “out.”

Which brings us to Johnson and Lache Seastrunk, the latter not seeming to show strong command of the playbook just yet.

But Johnson seems ready to go since he’s both healthy and knowledgeable enough to get through a preseason game.

Upon watching Johnson run, I’m reminded immediately of a slightly smaller Marion Barber III, a very physical runner that Dallas rode pretty hard from 2005-10. Never confused as a break-away running back out of the backfield, Barber could still get big gains simply because he was so hard to tackle.

Johnson isn’t going to get around the age very often, but he will break tackles and chew up yards. He seems like a good fit as a straight-ahead, downhill running back, similar to the style that America’s Team enjoyed last year with DeMarco Murray.

It will be very interesting to see whether or not Johnson can find his way onto the roster before the season opener against the New York Giants.

Not that I’m tossing McFadden out to the wolves, but it would sure seem like he needs to play some football if the Cowboys are really going to keep him around. It’s no secret that McFadden has talent, but that talent is going to have to hit the field.

If anybody needs to be playing right now, it’s Randle, and until he’s healthy and shows what he can do, I just can’t anoint him as anything other than just “one of the guys” in the backfield, a part of a committee that has no clear leader at this time.

Dunbar is merely a change-of-pace back that really isn’t expected to touch the football more than a few times per game.

So, it would make sense that Johnson might start forging a future for himself with a strong showing against the Chargers. If this happens, it’s a near certainty that, if healthy, he could see even more playing time next week against the 49ers in San Francisco.

Let’s put it this way: I’d much rather see Johnson get a shot than to see Dallas bring in another veteran runner who another team didn’t want – like Ray Rice.

Speaking of Rice, former Chargers and New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison stated via NBC Sports that the Cowboys should give Rice a shot given the previously mentioned issues at running back.

I would simply ask Harrison to scout Johnson first, as opposed to suggesting that the Cowboys bring in a guy caught on video knocking a woman unconscious – and no, the Rice situation is not the same as the one that defensive end Greg Hardy was allegedly a part of.

DallasCowboys.com lists Johnson as standing 5’10” and weighing in at 215 pounds. This is slightly smaller than Barber and a little bit bigger than Rice.

Nonetheless, each has a very similar running style that Dallas already has at camp.

Time will tell, but Johnson will have his best opportunity to line up in the Cowboys backfield, long-term, in just a matter of hours. Given the current state of affairs where Dallas running backs are concerned, it sure seems like there might very well be a job available if Johnson shows just a part of what he accomplished in the Lumberjacks backfield.

Johnson totaled 3,907 yards rushing in becoming the all-time leading rusher at Stephen F. Austin. His 1,683 yards in 2014 marked a record for the Lumberjacks. He tallied 52 total touchdowns during his FCS career and was also named the Southland Conference Player of the Year in ’14.

If Johnson manages to find a home in Dallas for the ’15 season, it might very well be a big surprise for Cowboys fans.

For many in Nacogdoches, Texas, it might not be a surprise at all.

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