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Will Michael emerge as No. 1 in Cowboys' backfield?

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Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones acknowledged Monday afternoon that newly acquired running back Christine Michael is a "long shot" to suit up versus the New York Giants in the season premiere of NBC's Sunday Night Football.

"We're very content with the three backs that we have as we head into the Giants game," Jones added. "I think they're all healthy and hitting on all cylinders, so I'm looking forward to seeing how those guys do."

What Cowboys fans and fantasy football heads want to know is whether a freakishly talented but frustratingly immature young player acquired on the cheap for a conditional seventh-round draft pick can rise to the top of the backfield depth chart in the near future.

Pointing out that his new power back has "a lot of traits," coach Jason Garrett suggested Michael's role will depend solely on his ability to outplay the competition in practice.

"There's opportunity every day in practice," Garrett said Monday, via the team's official website. "We're going to evaluate guys in practice, and if they show that they're worthy of being part of our roster on Sundays, we'll give them a chance to do that. If they're worthy of getting some opportunities to carry the football, we'll give them a chance to do that, as well."

In other words, the door is wide open for each of the Cowboys' running backs to separate from the pack as the season plays out.

NFL Media's Michael Robinson, a fullback who blocked for Michael two years ago, fully believes his former teammate is a "complete runner" who "will take the No. 1 job" if given the opportunity.

Robinson pointed out that Michael was asked to do a lot more in Seattle than he will in Dallas behind a dominant offensive line with No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant drawing safeties out of the box.

"He's going to be able to really get to the line, get a clean entry point to the line of scrimmage, and he is explosive," Robinson explained. "... He's never seen some of the holes that this line can provide for him.

"I talked to him today. He's very, very excited to be coming home and to be a Cowboy."

Michael has an unquestioned talent advantage over role player Joseph Randle and an injury-prone, declining Darren McFadden.

The Beaumont, Texas, native set an NFL Scouting Combine record for his position with a 43-inch vertical leap in 2013. He was also the top performer in the broad jump (10-foot-5), three-cone drill (6.69), 20-yard shuttle (4.02), and bench press (27 reps) that year.

Former NFL scout and front office executive Louis Riddick praised Michael last offseason as the most gifted running back drafted in the past five years.

The Texas A&M strength coach who trained both Michael and Adrian Peterson told Riddick that Michael's "athletic explosiveness is on par" with Peterson's.

The nifty 25-yard catch-and-run to the right shows a player who passes the eye test with flying colors.

If Michael is oozing with difference-making potential and playmaking ability, why did a model organization such as the Seahawks throw in the towel just a year after vowing to take advantage of his "God-given ability" and "breakaway speed and power behind his pads"?

Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times offered an eye-opening breakdown of Michael's issues Monday.

When Robinson explains that Michael was asked to do more in Seattle's offense, he's hinting at a running back who struggled with footwork, reads and assignments in Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme that asks backs to patiently wait for "dark creases" to open.

"You might see the great cut one time and then not the next, and it's the exact same scenario," Cable said last year. "He comes across and makes a great blitz pickup one play and then he's supposed to chip and then, 'Oh, I'm going to get out for my route, and oops I forgot to chip.' It's just being able to put a good play together and then a good one the next time and the next time. When that becomes his habit, then he owns it. Right now he doesn't own it."

Whereas Marshawn Lynch has proven to be the ideal runner for Cable's scheme, Michael has proven to be a tease, unable to master the fundamentals.

Because NFL defenses rarely offer the gaping creases that are seen in college football, running backs must be graded on how they perform on their first steps to and through the hole. That's where Michael has been found wanting.

"Once he gets to point B, his God-given ability takes over," former Seahawks fullback Kiero Small explained last year. "It's getting from A to B with him."

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Was that problem exacerbated by Michael's frustration and lack of focus while adjusting to a limited role in Seattle? Pete Carroll suggested as much last offseason.

Perhaps Cowboys coaches will discover a more engaged Michael once they expand his role.

The key question, however, is to what extent Dallas' road-grading offensive line unlocks Michael's game-breaking potential by opening gaping holes as it did for reigning Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray, who had nine more runs of 15+ yards than any back in the league last season.

Back in 2000, the Green Bay Packers struck gold by trading a sixth-round pick to the Seahawks for a wildly talented but technically unsound prospect stuck behind Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander.

Ahman Green went on to become one of the NFL's most productive backs over the next half-decade, earning four Pro Bowl berths and averaging 1,370 rushing yards per season.

It will be interesting to see if lightning strikes twice with an enigmatic reclamation project essentially given up for dead by the Seahawks.

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