Dallas Cowboys: Why to watch Ryan Williams during training camp

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And for Ryan Williams, the 2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp could be his last shot at an NFL career.

That’s why I expect big things from the 24-year-old running back in Oxnard this year. Williams was drafted 38th overall back in 2011, a promising every-down option for the Arizona Cardinals. He was unable to stay healthy during his rookie and sophomore seasons, however, and was cut by the team in March. He’ll enter 2014 looking to prove himself in the NFL and show that he can stay on the field.

There is reason to believe that Williams, with a relatively light workload, could accomplish this. Though his college and pro career is checkered with injuries, his rookie season IR stint was caused by a torn patellar tendon, the body’s strongest tendon. That kind of injury is very rare and unlikely to be duplicated. Williams insists that he was healthy through 2013 and went unused by the Cardinals for other reasons. The Arizona running back corps is very deep, so it’s understandable and unfortunate that Williams couldn’t earn any snaps.

[Dallas Cowboys: Three most intriguing positional battles]

Dallas also has solid options at running back, but Williams fills a very specific need for them. DeMarco Murray, obviously, is the team’s No. 1, every-down back. He’s coming off a Pro Bowl campaign and looking to lock up a long-term deal with a good season. Problem is, Murray has trouble staying on the field. 2013 was his healthiest season yet, but he still missed two games.

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Dallas Cowboys huddle

With Murray out in Weeks 7 and 8, the team called on rookie Joseph Randle to shoulder the load in his absence. Against the Lions on October 27, Randle had 14 attempts for 26 yards, or 1.9 per carry. The lack of a viable running game played a big part in the narrow 31-30 loss.

Needless to say, the performance didn’t inspire any hope for a Murray-less future or signal that Randle was ready for the No. 2 job. Jason Garrett loves competition, and bringing in Williams for 2014 provides just that. Expect the two to battle it out throughout camp.

What happens to the loser of the competition? Lance Dunbar‘s presence makes the equation more complicated. Dunbar is a great third-down back whose speed the Cowboys value–he’ll see plenty of snaps again this season. Garrett has also mentioned that he’d like to have a fullback on the squad, though the team has gone without before. Does Dallas have room for four running backs and a fullback?

If it doesn’t it might be the end of the road for Randle or Williams, at least in the silver and blue. Williams will have to handily outplay Randle in the preseason to win the job outright–the team doesn’t want to give up on Randle so quickly unless it has a clearly superior option.

If Williams does make the team, he’ll be an asset in pass-blocking and receiving as well as on the ground. And there’s a good chance he’ll see significant playing time should anything happen to Murray. Williams is a physical back with big upside–he just has to stay on the field.

The Cowboys were Williams’s childhood team, and Dallas almost drafted him back in 2011. Now that he’s finally here, he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on in Oxnard. Remember to check out isportsweb’s Cowboys page for all your training camp news and analysis.

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