Desmond Roland emerged as a stretch-run horse for Oklahoma State a year ago.
Now, will the Cowboys press him for more, or pull back on the reins?
The presence of Tyreek Hill and Rennie Childs suggests more of a job share at running back, with all three in play for carries, and Hill set up as perhaps the most prominent piece of the offense, pegged for 15 to 20 touches a game.
Roland, after his first appearance in a feature role, naturally wants more as he approaches his senior season.
“Personally, I just want to have a better season than I had last season,” said Roland, who ran for 654 of his team-high 811 yards in the final seven games of 2013. “I don’t want to downgrade from last year’s stats. I want to double every stat that I had.
“I feel like if I accomplish all those stats in six or seven games, I can do way better in 10 or 12 games this year.”
So does that put Roland on pace to become a 1,000-yard back?
“I hope that he doesn’t have that many carries,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “With the experience that Rennie brings back and the carries that Tyreek will get, Des can have a better year but not as many yards.”
Gundy said the conversation has taken place with Roland about the possibility of a reduced workload. That doesn’t mean Roland can’t be Option A, or that he can’t be a major factor in the team’s success.
It does mean that the emphasis will be on the team’s success.
“You’re always concerned about how guys will respond after they’ve had that one good year, no matter what their age is,” Gundy said. “And then, the other thing is, you have to be careful to make sure they don’t think they have to perform at a certain level statistically.
“We have had the discussion with him. He could have a better year and only have 600 yards. But we’ll be a better football team if we have more players that we can share the carries with. And I think we’re moving in that direction.”
Roland’s career stuttered at the start, due to some maturity issues and a blocked path to playing time, with Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith standing in the way.
Randle eventually moved on to the NFL, and when Smith struggled a year ago, Roland seized the opportunity with a breakout 219-yard, four-touchdown game at Iowa State. By season’s end, he was one of the most productive backs in the Big 12, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and proving capable as a receiver, too, totaling a combined 16 touchdowns.
“His first 18 months in college, he was a long ways away from being able to develop into a Big 12 football player and a college student,” Gundy said of Roland. “He understands now. He’s up. He’s in class. He’s in study hall. He’s on time. He’s developed some toughness.
“Last year, at a pivotal time, when we needed someone to climb on and someone to ride, he did a great job for us carrying the football.
“He was really good. So I think he’s embraced that.”
Now Roland must embrace sharing the load.
And he says he has, even to the point of sharing the same backfield with Hill and/or Childs.
“I love the idea of me and (Hill) being in the same backfield,” Roland said. “Me, him and Rennie at times. The defense will never know who’s going to get the ball.
“We can both make big plays. When that first game comes, we’re going to see what can happen.”