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Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part III: Tashard Choice vs. Phillip Tanner vs. Lonyae Miller | The DC Times

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Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part III: Tashard Choice vs. Phillip Tanner vs. Lonyae Miller

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Jonathan Bales

Click here to read Part I or Part II of the “Training Camp Battles” Series.

Despite not playing a single down all preseason, rookie DeMarco Murray’s roster spot at running back is obviously safe.  With Felix Jones set to be a bit of a workhorse this season, the Cowboys’ final running back will likely need to play special teams.  One of the contenders–Tashard Choice–doesn’t particularly enjoy playing special teams.  Of the other two options, one (Lonyae Miller) has run tentatively in the preseason, while the other (Phillips Tanner) has been outstanding.  Let’s break down the cases for each player. . .

  • Tashard Choice

Choice had an up-and-down 2010 season, finishing with a C+ (78.9%) overall grade.  In my 2010 Running Back Grades, I graded Choice as follows:

Short-Yardage Running: B-

Choice’s sample size of 10 short-yardage runs isn’t enough for those stats to mean much, so we have to judge his performance with film.  To me, Choice did just an average job on short-yardage in 2010, but I think he’s a better player than what his numbers indicate (70.0 percent conversion rate).  He doesn’t have incredible explosiveness, but he always seems to be either elusive or strong enough to adequately perform his job.  Still, Choice’s yards-after-contact and broken tackle numbers need to improve.

Overall Running:  C-

Again, I don’t think Choice’s numbers match up with his actual ability.  I think Choice is the type of player who performs well as he becomes accustomed to the flow of the game.  He needs some time to get going.  Is that ideal?  No, but it does appear to be the case.

When Choice has received that extra playing time in the past, he’s done well.  He’ll never be a feature back, but I certainly believe he can be a very productive No. 2 option.  He’s solid in every aspect of running back play, but will Garrett even want him around in 2011?

Receiving:  B-

Choice is a natural pass-catcher.  Again, he’s not flashy and won’t take a screen pass 60 yards to the house, but he will consistently put himself in position to convert first downs.

Pass Protection:  B

I think Choice regressed just a bit in his pass protection this season.  He really struggled in the preseason, but he got it cleaned up (for the most part) during the regular season.  I attributed one sack and three pressures to Choice.

Choice has been a productive player for the Cowboys when given snaps, but Jason Garrett doesn’t like that Choice won’t play special teams (and for good reason).  As a No. 3 back, it should be a given that special teams duties are in your future.

If the Cowboys cut or trade Choice, they could be in some trouble.  Rookie DeMarco Murray is a true unknown at this point, and it would be quite risky to have No. 2 and No. 3 running backs with zero NFL experience behind a starter who has an above average chance of getting injured.

Thus, I think you’ll see Choice either get traded or make the final roster.  If Garrett can get a mid-round draft pick for him, he’ll probably pull the trigger.  If not, I don’t think Choice will be released and he may even enter the season as the No. 2 running back.

Running: 5

Receiving: 7

Pass Protection: 7

Special Teams: 0

Total: 19

  • Lonyae Miller

Miller has been awful in the preseason.  Outside of a pancake block on Sunday night, he has been poor as a runner, receiver and pass protector.  No. 3 running backs need to do a variety of things well, and Miller doesn’t do any of them at a particularly high level.  He’ll play special teams, but again, that should be a given.

Running: 2

Receiving: 3

Pass Protection: 4

Special Teams: 5

Total: 14

  • Phillip Tanner

Tanner has been one of the biggest surprises for Dallas this preseason.  He has run with power and explosiveness, highlighted by his breakout performance on Sunday night.  He kind of reminds me of a young Marion Barber, but with a lot more wiggle.  He’s not afraid to lower his pads and hit a defender in the mouth, but he can run around them too.  You know that kind of attitude will translate well to special teams.

Tanner’s biggest con is his lack of experience.  The Cowboys know what they have in Choice and even Miller, but Tanner’s uncertainty might scare off Garrett.  If Jones gets injured and Murray isn’t as advertised, what happens if Tanner isn’t what we saw the other night?

Running: 8

Receiving: 6

Pass Protection: 6

Special Teams: 7

Total: 27


So far, I have been assuming the Cowboys will retain just three running backs.  That is standard practice, especially with so many potential fullbacks and tight ends on the team.  Of course, you want to keep as close to the best 53 guys on the team as possible, and if four running backs deserve to be on the squad, then they should all make it.

If Tanner continues to play as he did Sunday night, I don’t know how Garrett will cut him.  It would be a bonehead move to try to sneak him onto the practice squad, in my opinion, because a running back-hungry team will scoop him up in no time.  His presence on the roster would lead to too much inexperience at running back, however, so I think he should be the fourth running back–behind Jones, Murray and Choice.  Unless Miller can suddenly learn to kick field goals with great accuracy, he isn’t making this team.

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11 Responses to Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part III: Tashard Choice vs. Phillip Tanner vs. Lonyae Miller

  1. Tyrone Jenkins says:


  2. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    i am berry confusued

  3. chris stallcup says:

    He’s saying tanner should be the fourth rb

  4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Not sure who chimed in as me but previous posts were not the real Tyrone Jenkins…

    I agree, Tanner should be the 4th RB and as the Boys should only carry 4 WRs on game day (and line up an extra TE or FJ or DM as the 5th). That allows all 4 RBs to be on the active game day roster (TC would retain the #2 RB spot). If/when TC is traded, then everyone moves up a spot and the 5th WR is brought up from the practice squad.

  5. JJ says:

    No argument here.

    I think a good discussion is if the 3rd WR is really on the roster today AND why the Cowboys should part ways with Ball and keep Thomas and Mario Butler.

  6. Vince_Grey says:

    Sounds logical to me, although I will be shocked if Dallas can get some team to part with a draft pick for Choice anytime soon.

    I would say Miller is history by the last cut and Choice is on the roster, but maybe just long enough for Murray and/or Tanner to show they’re NFL ready. I’m sure you could carry one of the extra receivers and/or definitely one of the FB’s on the practice squad.

    Fully how different people see the same thing and come up with diverse opinions. I like Tanner’s running ability, but he doesn’t remind me of Barber at all. To me, Barber was more of a hit and bounce off pinball kind of runner, while Tanner is cut and slash with some power.

    Ah well. As long as it gets positive yards, I’m fine either way.

  7. Scott says:

    Tanner sure is an intriguing prospect. So funny how all the camp reports were glowing for Miller and then Tanner is the one who shines in games. Can’t really tell with RBs when you’re not actually tackling.

    My question is how he is doing on pass pro and ST. We can see him run well, but hard to see the other parts without studying the film. He did make one return tackle so that’s promising. That’s better than Choice right there. But how does he look on other ST plays, and in blitz pickup? What have you seen in your tape review?

  8. Vince_Grey says:

    Scott – I would say that neither Choice or Miller are standouts at pass pro or ST, so if the Tanner kid is decent or above that’s good enough for me with his apparent running ability.

    I’d like to see Tanner up against some 1st string NFL competition, but right now he’s no worse than our 2nd best runner, and it’s not even close.

    Choice’s failure to embrace ST here may well cost him an NFL roster spot. The sad part is, once we part ways with him, and once he see’s his career about to end, he’ll probably “see the light” and become a real ST demon for some other team.

    NFL History tidbit: Former NFL great Todd Christensen was originally a FB in college and was drafted by the Cowboys, who wanted to turn him into a TE. TC refused to even consider it, so Dallas cut him. The Raiders picked him up and said “You WILL be a TE or we’ll cut you too.” TC “saw the light” and reluctantly (At first) became a TE, then an All Pro and borderline HoFer. Because of his stubbornness, the Cowboys lost out on a great player.

    Sometimes, you have to see your NFL career about to end forever to “embrace” what you really are and what you really need to to in order to play in this league.

    Choice probably thinks he’s has NFL starter talent and just needs a legit shot. Maybe he does, but I think he’s a decently talented 2nd stringer who’s good/okay at everything but excels at nothing.

  9. john coleman says:

    #2-Tanner- based totally on what I have seen with my own eyes on the field. Talk 2nd string D’s if you will, but Lonyae Miller did nothing against the same D’s. This kid just seems to get it.
    #3-TC- I have to base this on his career production. He has always done the job when we needed it. I do not go along with the notion that he is good but not great or that his talent level is such. Again, he has excelled every time he has been the bell cow. I does severely wee me off that he doesn’t embrace teams. I do agree that a 3rd back should be a ST’s contibutor. I have been a major backer of TC on all sites, but if Tanner and Murray can play, his time may be up.
    #4-Murray-I base this on college production and his 4.3 40. He also may be the returner we have been looking for. He should be a adequate backup for Felix based on his skill set, as well as a 2nd or 3rd down speller. I must exercise caution, until I see something, anything from him.
    #5-Miller-1 good block in two preseasons is hardly enough to keep a RB around, even on the practice squad. RB’s run! He has consistently shown he can’t.

    I would not be surprised at all to see Choice gone by mid season. I truely believe Tanner is for real and if Murray can play(which we know midseason, hopefully) we don’t need 4 RB’s on the roster.

    Early on the 4RB/4WR thing might be good. Felix and Murray both could be used in some interesting receiving looks.

  10. starred4life says:

    Cutting Choice would be boneheaded, but trading him is a possibility. Next year he becomes a free agent and he’s gone. We have no money for free agents next year, but draft picks are another story. A team like Miami might love to have Choice for a mid round pick.

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