Dallas Cowboys: Joique Bell

Dunbar excited for role in offense

May, 30, 2014
May 30
IRVING, Texas -- Lance Dunbar has taken a quick look at the Detroit Lions offense the past few years to get a feel for the Dallas Cowboys' newest playcaller, Scott Linehan.

"It's pretty exciting," Dunbar said. "There's a lot of screens and stuff. He got them the ball in space."

Lions running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined for more than 100 catches. Bush caught 54 passes for 506 yards. Bell caught 52 for 485 yards.

To expect Dunbar to exceed 50 catches might be a stretch. He caught only seven passes for 59 yards last season. Detroit did not have a tight end like Jason Witten either. There will only be so many passes to go around with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Witten, Gavin Escobar and DeMarco Murray, who caught 53 passes for 353 yards last season.

But Dunbar will have a role.

"He's a very intelligent guy," Dunbar said of Linehan. "He gets everybody going. He's getting us on the same page."

Dunbar has to show he can stay healthy. He battled through foot and hamstring injuries before suffering a season-ending knee injury against the Oakland Raiders. But it was that game in which Dunbar showed what the coaches thought he could do from the beginning of the season. He carried 12 times for 82 yards and had a 45-yard run. He caught one pass for 12 yards before his game ended in the fourth quarter.

With the field spread, Dunbar's speed and quickness can be an asset.

Dunbar has been full speed for the entire offseason and has not needed time off to rest the knee.

I can't do nothing about [last year]," Dunbar said. "It happened. What matters is what you do after that. I think in my mind I'm back and right. I need to focus on what I'm trying to do so I can get back out there doing what I was doing when I left off."

Cowboys looking for new Moe Williams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
IRVING, Texas -- In talking to Dallas Cowboys passing game coordinator Scott Linehan last week during the rookie minicamp for this story, he mentioned the success he has had in the past with a running game.

[+] EnlargeScott Linehan
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsScott Linehan has a track record of using running backs efficiently in the passing game.
Since his arrival with the Cowboys, most of the discussion has been about how much he threw the ball with the Detroit Lions. He pointed out -- not in a defensive way -- that the Minnesota Vikings ran it well when he was the coordinator when he had Randy Moss catching Daunte Culpepper's passes. Many assume, he said, that he had Robert Smith running the ball.

He didn't. He had Michael Bennett as his lead back.

Linehan was also quick to mention another back.

"Moe Williams was a big part of it, too," he said. "He had like 600 yards that year. He is my all-time favorite third-down guy."

There have been questions about the Cowboys' receivers not named Dez Bryant or Terrance Williams and the roles of Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and Devin Street.

While the Cowboys have been a three-wide receiver dominant team in recent years, the need for a 50-catch No. 3 receiver isn't a requirement, unless there are injuries. With Jason Witten, the third receiver is mitigated. With the Cowboys looking to get Gavin Escobar more involved, the No. 3 receiver role could be diminished.

But Linehan's mention of Williams was interesting. He will use the running backs in the passing game. In 2003, Williams caught 65 passes for 644 yards and three touchdowns. From 2002-04, he caught 113 passes.

Linehan's top backs in Detroit, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, caught 56 and 53 passes respectively. They combined for 1,053 yards. With St. Louis, Steven Jackson had a 90-catch season. When Linehan and Jason Garrett were together in Miami, Ronnie Brown caught 32 passes and Ricky Williams caught 17.

Last year, DeMarco Murray caught 53 passes for 350 yards. Injuries prevented Lance Dunbar from being used as much as the Cowboys wanted to use him in 2013. He caught just seven passes for 59 yards. He ran 30 times for 150 yards.

If he can stay healthy, he could be Linehan's next Moe Williams.

What Scott Linehan will bring to Cowboys

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
IRVING, Texas – From 2009-13, Scott Linehan was the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions and helped quarterback Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson put up some staggering numbers.

Linehan was hired this week as the Dallas Cowboys’ passing game coordinator and will call the plays in 2014. With the Cowboys, he will get to work with Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer asked ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein for a little insight on Linehan.

Todd Archer: What type of playcaller are the Cowboys getting in Linehan?

Michael Rothstein: Linehan has some creativity to what he is able to do. He was really able to get both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in open spaces using a variety of screens and dumpoffs throughout the season. Evidence of this is a middle screen the Lions scored on multiple times last season. He was criticized most often for either going empty or throwing in third-and-short situations despite having Reggie Bush and Joique Bell at his disposal. Sometimes the routes he devised with some of his playcalls led to receivers being too bunched up at points. But he has the ability to really draw up some good plays and he has experience with a quarterback-receiver combination like Tony Romo and Dez Bryant in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

Archer: Cowboys fans have screamed at Garrett for not running the ball enough and now he has a guy who ran it less in Linehan. Did he not run the ball much because of who he had before Reggie Bush showed up?

Rothstein: I wasn't around before Bush, either, but he often said having Bush legitimized and gave credibility to their running game. There is truth to that, because Bush had a 1,000-yard season -- the first for a Detroit running back since 2004. If I had to guess, you'll still see an offense predicated on passing since the Romo-to-Bryant combination is a strong one, but as long as Linehan believes he has the line and running backs to be successful, he'll run it. But he'll definitely be a passing guy first.

Archer: How would you describe his relationship with Matthew Stafford? Obviously Tony Romo will have a lot of say here and I’m curious how he and Stafford worked.

Rothstein: Stafford really liked him and appeared to be disappointed in Linehan's firing when it happened last month. One of the bigger criticisms of the Jim Schwartz and Linehan tenure was that they were not critical enough with Stafford and didn't push him enough. Of course, he was a younger quarterback where Romo is a veteran, so he might not need that. I'd say Romo will be in a position where he will definitely have a lot of say and there will be an absolute comfort level needed there. My guess is the relationship will be similar for Linehan and Romo in Dallas.

What will run game look like with Linehan?

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
IRVING, Texas -- With sources saying Scott Linehan will take over as the Dallas Cowboys' playcaller, his track record suggests the offense will be Tony Romo friendly.

[+] EnlargeScott Linehan
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesScott Linehan has been the Lions' offensive coordinator for the past five years, but can he get the Dallas run game going?
For the past five years Linehan was the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator. In the last three seasons, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown for 14,655 yards and 90 touchdowns with 52 interceptions.

From 2011-13, Calvin Johnson caught 302 passes for 5,137 yards and 33 touchdowns. So that would appear to be good news for Dez Bryant.

But what about the running game?

Linehan has been an offensive coordinator/head coach from 2002-2013, except for the final 12 games of the 2008 season when he was fired as head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Using the 11 seasons as a backdrop, Linehan has had a top-10 ranked rush offense just twice and those were in his first two years with the Minnesota Vikings in 2002 and 2003. A Linehan-led running game has not finished better than 12th in the NFL since. With the Lions he had running games ranked Nos. 24, 23, 29, 23 and 17.

The Cowboys have been at their best offensively when DeMarco Murray has been involved.

Linehan is not averse to the run.

In 2002, Michael Bennett ran for 1,296 yards for the Vikings. A year later Minnesota had four different players with at least 400 yards rushing. In 2005 with the Miami Dolphins, where he worked with Jason Garrett for the first time, Ronnie Brown ran for 907 yards and Ricky Williams had 743 yards.

In his first year with the Rams, Steven Jackson, the runner so many Cowboys fans wanted them to take in 2004, ran for 1,528 yards. He had 1,002 yards in 2007.

With the Lions, he had to make due with Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best, whose career was cut short by injuries and Mikel Leshoure. Last season, Reggie Bush ran for 1,006 yards. Joique Bell ran for 650 yards.

In Murray, Linehan will inherit a back coming off the best year of his career and an offensive line that finished the year on a high note.

It's up to him to use the running game.