Because of injuries to others, Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner has taken plenty of practice snaps this week with the first-team offense.
The second-year back considers himself ready, if needed, to make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Giants. But the former free agent draws the line at declaring himself comfortable in that role. Or any role in professional football.
“I’m never comfortable. That’s what kills you, when a guy gets comfortable and complacent,” said Tanner, who had a career-high 13 carries in last week’s 19-14 win over Carolina in relief of injured teammates DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee). “I still come in every day as if I’m a free agent trying to make this team. I study film as if I’ve never seen it before. I take notes as if I’ve never read it before. Just so I can stay on my toes and won’t become complacent … So if I was good at 13 carries, I’ll try to be better at 14. And on and on and on.”
That work ethic, said coach Jason Garrett, offers comfort to the Cowboys if Tanner _ a third-teamer with 44 career carries for 137 yards _ handles most of the workload Sunday against the Giants with Murray out and Jones on the mend. Jones practiced Thursday on a limited basis and, barring a setback, is expected to start Sunday.
But if Jones cannot play or cannot finish Sunday’s game, the spotlight shifts to Tanner. And Tanner’s primary backup would be rookie Lance Dunbar, a free-agent signee from North Texas and Haltom High School whose lone NFL carry covered 11 yards in the team’s 31-29 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 14.
Dunbar said the undrafted duo can handle a showdown with the reigning world champions, if necessary.
“I’m pretty confident in myself and I’m confident in him,” Dunbar said. “If that happens, we’ll approach it like, ‘OK, we can do this. It’s just another game.’ We’d play our game and let it happen.”
Tanner (5-foot-10, 217 pounds), a Dallas native who played at Kimball High School, said he has prepared himself mentally for a starting role since signing with his hometown NFL team on July 28, 2011.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is always be mentally prepared. Just take it to practice every day as if I’m going to be the starting running back,” Tanner said. “That’s been my mindset since the first day. Just to work hard and jell with the offensive line as if I’m the starting running back. So that when my time came, I would be ready.”
_ Jimmy Burch