Jeremy Smith has been prepping for this role his entire Cowboys career.
And now that the No. 1 running back job is his, he's determined to thrive in it.
The on-the-field ability isn't questioned, with Smith's three-plus seasons as a much-used backup returning strong results: a 6.2 yards-per-carry average on 232 carries for 1,439 yards, along with 25 touchdowns.
It's Smith's ability to stay on the field that is questioned.
Nagging little injuries have hampered the Tulsa senior's availability and effectiveness. And durability questions surround Smith, and the Cowboys, with no proven backup ready in reserve.
So, can Smith stay healthy?
“We'll see,” said OSU running backs coach Jemal Singleton.
You'll see, said Smith.
And his reasoning is more than intriguing. Smith believes that an increased workload will actually benefit him.
“It's all about conditioning,” said Smith, who is on the Doak Walker Award watch list. “I don't have to keep cooling my body off, then going back in and warming it up again. I'll always be warm.”
Hmm, makes some sense, at least from a strained muscle or hamstring perspective. It's hard to stay warm and stretched while standing on the sideline.
Still, it's a theory that Smith must prove.
Certainly, he looks the part. It would be difficult to find a Cowboy in better shape. And his massive biceps and forearms are evidence that he's a workout monster.
Now it's time to see if he can handle a major workload, carrying the ball 20 or 25 times a game.
“The backs that we have had in the past have all carried the ball that many times,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
“He has done really well for us over the years, and he is ready to take the workload this year.”
Smith has earned his shot, coming a long way from the time early in his career when he wasn't sure he wanted to remain a part of the program, even going home to Tulsa for a few days to contemplate his future.
And the Cowboys need Smith to make the most of his shot.
“Jeremy Smith is kind of the war daddy, the old guy,” Singleton said. “He's a sixth-year guy who's been around the block a bit. He knows it. He's played it. He's been the backup and now he's got a chance to step into that starring role.”
Smith understands he can't relax now that his time has arrived.
“I know I have to go out with the mindset knowing I'm the guy,” Smith said, “which means I have to work harder than any other running back out there, because they believe in me and I believe in myself, too.
“I've had my opportunities. And I'm blessed to be a part of this knowing it's my turn now.”