With Strong Showing Versus Vikings, McFadden Shows That He’s Still Got Tread Left On His Tires
The Dallas Cowboys made headlines during the spring of 2004 by signing veteran free-agent running back Eddie George to a one-year contract. In eight years with Tennessee, George had racked up over 10,000 yards and 64 touchdowns, while placing himself at least in the discussion for enshrinement in Canton one day down the road.
Dallas head coach Bill Parcells wasn’t expecting the Hall of Fame version of steady Eddie. He was just seeking a source of reliability out of the backfield.
George’s predecessor in Dallas, the club-footed Troy Hambrick, would have needed nineteen years to match his rushing total with the Titans, based upon his level of production during the 2003 season. In his first and only season free from the shadow of Emmitt Smith, Hambrick had 15 games in which he carried ten times or more. Much to Parcells’ chagrin, Hambrick averaged less than three-yards-per-carry in eight of those games.
There was a certain amount of risk in signing a 30-year old running back who had already endured the punishment of 2,700 carries in the NFL. But Parcells was more than willing to take a chance on George, figuring that anybody and anything could produce more than Hambrick had.
Nevertheless, Parcells worked his new runner hard during the Cowboys’ first training camp in California in fifteen years, trying to diagnose whether or not George had “any tread left on his tires.”
Here we were eleven years later, during what figures to be the team’s final full-length training camp in Oxnard for the foreseeable future,, and current Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was busy conducting his own search for tread, this time on the wheels of longtime Oakland Raiders tailback Darren McFadden. Over a 30-day period, Garrett, it must be admitted, didn’t learn an overwhelming amount about the 28-year old, other than the fact that he is still susceptible to injuries.
During what was supposed to be a lengthy battle with Joseph Randle for the starting role, McFadden spent two weeks standing off to the side, nursing a mild hamstring ailment. Rather than hurry him back onto the practice field, Garrett chose to ease him back into a full workload, maintaining that McFadden’s health going into the regular season was of primary importance. Meanwhile, Randle was winning the competition, even if only by default.
But last night in Arlington against the visiting Minnesota Vikings, McFadden received his first “extended” action of the preseason, proving to all watching that his tires aren’t bald just yet. He ran hard. Perhaps of even more consequence for a player of his age, McFadden displayed a burst of speed that had not been apparent on the practice field during camp.
Upon entering the game early in the second quarter, Dallas trailed 10-7 on the scoreboard. By the time he called it a night eight plays and two possessions later, McFadden had 37 yards to his credit on only four carries, and the Cowboys owned a 14-10 advantage. His final carry of the game, a 15-yard scamper around left end, moved the ball to the Minnesota 8-yard line, and set up Tony Romo’s touchdown pass to Lucky Whitehead on the ensuing play.
“I think that what you saw was vintage McFadden,” a hyperbolic Jerry Jones said in postgame. “You saw that acceleration. You saw his abilities.”
Garrett was a bit more diplomatic about McFadden’s performance, though certainly no less complimentary. “I thought we did some good things in the running game, particularly with the first unit,” he said. “…I thought Darren McFadden got going a little bit. We’ve known he’s a good football player. The biggest issue with him in Oakland seems to be dealing with some different injuries. He had a little bit of an injury bug with us at the outset, but he’s been practicing here for the last couple or three weeks and he’s done a good job.
“He’s a smart football player, he’s an experienced football player. He obviously has ability. The biggest thing with him is getting healthy and giving him a chance to play. Whatever he did tonight was not a surprise.”
But it had to have been a relief.