Dallas Cowboys: Mikel Leshoure

What will run game look like with Linehan?

January, 28, 2014
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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.

DeMarco Murray carries chip on shoulder

June, 7, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- It might be easy for DeMarco Murray to feel pretty good about his rookie season after rushing for 897 yards on 164 carries, but it sure does not sound like the second-year running back is satisfied.

“The approach is the same,” Murray said. “At the end of the day I’m still the fifth or sixth running back taken last year, third-round pick, looked over by many and I’m still working to get better. I’m not a veteran. I haven’t been here for many years, so I’m trying to work hard every day and prove to myself that I belong here.”

Murray was the sixth running back taken in 2011 behind New Orleans' Mark Ingram (No. 28), Arizona’s Ryan Williams (38), New England’s Shane Vereen (56), Detroit’s Mikel Leshoure (57) and Miami’s Daniel Thomas (62).

Murray, who missed the final three games last season with an ankle injury, was the 71st pick but the leading rookie rusher. He did it all without the benefit of an offseason program and missed almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury.

“This is huge for me,” Murray said of this offseason. “I don’t have a chance to get the OTA sessions last year, learning the plays, getting comfortable knowing the offense and my teammates. This is a huge, huge blessing for me. I’ve been learning every day constantly. It’s been great.”

Position Series: Running backs

February, 15, 2011
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Players: Felix Jones (signed through 2012), Marion Barber (signed through 2014), Tashard Choice (signed through 2011), Lonyae Miller (signed through 2011)

[+] EnlargeBarber
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWith no guaranteed money left on his contract, it makes sense for the Cowboys to release running back Marion Barber, who butted heads with coach Jason Garrett last season.
Top free agents: DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers; Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants; Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals; Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts; Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers

Top draft prospects: Mark Ingram, Alabama; Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech; Mikel Leshoure, Illinois; Daniel Thomas, Kansas State; Demarco Murray, Oklahoma

2010 review: Felix Jones failed to wow after becoming the lead horse in September. He finished the season with a respectable 1,250 total yards (800 rushing and 450 receiving), but he wasn’t the gamebreaker he had been in a lesser role. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry – down from 5.9 as a change-of-pace back the previous season – and scored only two touchdowns. Marion Barber had the worst year of his career while cashing $7.8 million of Jerry Jones’ checks. He had career lows in every major rushing and receiving category. His average of 3.3 yards per carry ranked 45th of 47 backs who had enough carries to qualify. Tashard Choice didn’t make much of an impact other than his terrific performance in the road win over the Colts, when he rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Lonyae Miller did a solid job on special teams when promoted from the practice squad late in the season.

Offseason preview: It’s time to bid farewell to Barber. His production hasn’t come close to justifying his seven-year, $45 million contract and continues to trend down. He has butted heads with head coach Jason Garrett, most notably by his defiant refusal to adhere to the travel dress code before Garrett’s interim coaching debut. And there’s no more guaranteed money left on his deal. It would make no sense to pay him his $4.25 million salary next season. Even with Barber’s departure, running back isn’t a pressing need. Jones and Choice should be able to form a respectable tandem, especially if the Cowboys can address the issues on the offensive line. Maybe the Cowboys use a mid- to late-round pick on a back to challenge Miller for the No. 3 role, but it’d be surprising if they invested heavily in this position this offseason.

Need meter (1-5): 2

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