Dallas Cowboys: Bill Callahan

IRVING, Texas -- When coach Jason Garrett initially broached the idea of hiring Scott Linehan to call plays for the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo needed to do some research.

So he spent a few hours studying Linehan's approach during the five seasons he called plays for the Detroit Lions, after a three-year stint as the St. Louis Rams coach.

Romo liked Linehan’s approach because he saw an opportunity for Linehan to influence and impact the Cowboys offense without overhauling it.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/James D SmithScott Linehan aims to bring more play-action to the Cowboys' passing game. Of his time with Linehan, Tony Romo says, "He sees the game from a different perspective … I think he is a big part of us trying to be successful this year."
That's because Linehan's timing-based passing offense is similar to the scheme Garrett implemented with the Cowboys when he arrived in 2007. It's the same scheme Troy Aikman ran in the glory days of the 1990s.

Linehan didn't need to alter the playbook much, though he has changed some of the language to make it simpler.

More importantly, Romo figured the variety of screens and play-action passes Linehan used, along with his innate ability to consistently get the ball to his best players, would give the Cowboys offense a boost.

Plus, Linehan likes to throw the ball, and we know how much Romo likes that.

Detroit finished among the NFL’s top six in yards gained each of the past three seasons. The Lions ranked among the top six in pass attempts in each of his five seasons.

You can't tell based on what we’ve seen in the first two preseason games.

He's run the ball -- DeMarco Murray had eight carries in 14 plays on Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens -- and he's used it to set up play-action passes.

Linehan's biggest impact will be on screens and play-action passes, which will give the Cowboys offense a new look because they seldom ran either play the past two seasons.

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The Cowboys have thrown a total of just 57 screen passes in the past two seasons. Only three teams attempted fewer, and they averaged just 5.02 yards per attempt for one of the NFL's lowest totals.

Under Linehan, the Lions ranked ninth in the NFL with 111 screens attempted the past two seasons. Their average of 7.05 yards per attempt was tied for fourth in the league.

A perfectly executed 21-yard screen to Murray set up the Cowboys' first touchdown against Baltimore.

"We're working on them a lot, and Scott is calling them," Murray said. "We've had periods where we worked on screens before, but these are more intense. This is part of what he does. He emphasizes them, and he wants us to get it right. Plus, we have linemen who can get out in front of them now."

Teams that are serious about running successful screens usually devote daily practice time to them because of the high degree of synchronized teamwork required.

Linehan called five against Baltimore, including two bubble screens. Romo, Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie each threw at least one screen -- an indication Linehan wanted to see how each would execute it.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray will be the primary recipient of a revamped screen game under Scott Linehan. Murray says Linehan's screens are "more intense" than those of former Dallas playcallers'.
There's also been an emphasis on play-action passes this season.

Romo does such a nice job carrying out the ball fakes on play-action passes that it's almost impossible for the linebackers not to be fooled and take a couple of steps toward the line of scrimmage.

He had a 109.1 passer rating on play-action passes in 2013 and a 111.2 rating in 2012.

For some reason, whether Garrett or offensive coordinator Bill Callahan was doing the play calling, the Cowboys rarely took advantage of this aspect of Romo's skill set.

Just so you know, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 141 play-action passes the past season. That's the same amount Romo has amassed in two seasons.

"Scott has been great. He has a mind for football," Romo said. "I think our interaction has been outstanding. He sees the game from a different perspective, and it makes it easy to communicate daily about what we're trying to accomplish. I think he is a big part of us trying to be successful this year."

It’s no secret -- the offense must carry the Cowboys this season. Linehan's philosophical approach makes them more equipped to do that.
Dez Bryant and offensive line coach Bill Callahan were engrossed in a fascinating discussion after practice ended Saturday afternoon about the technique Jerry Rice used to catch the ball.

They were talking hand placement.

Bryant, like most receivers, makes a “W” shape with his hands with his thumbs touching when he catches the ball. Callahan said Rice used to hold one hand under the other when he caught the ball.

Rice used that technique because it gave him more margin for error and reduced his drops because he always had one hand under the ball. After discussing the nuances of the technique, Bryant caught passes for several minutes using the new technique.

Callahan coached Rice when the Hall of Fame receiver played for the Oakland Raiders.

“I like it,” Bryant told the coach. “I see why it works. I’m going to keep working on it.”

Garrett enters his biggest season -- again

July, 21, 2014
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Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
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NFL Nation's Todd Archer examines the three biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into training camp:

The health of Romo: Ever since he became the starter in 2006, how Tony Romo goes is how the Cowboys go. He is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, but he was able to do much more this offseason than he did in 2013, when he had a cyst removed. The Cowboys kept Romo out of any competitive drills in the spring in order for him to be fully healthy by the time they got to training camp. Using last year's camp as a guide, Romo did not miss a day of work, and the Cowboys don't believe he will need to be eased into the full practice load this summer either. Because a big part of Romo's game is his ability to move and create in open space, however, they will be cautious if there even hints of more soreness than just the aches and pains of training camp. All offseason, the Cowboys have not expressed any worry about Romo, who turned 34 in April, being able to return to form. He will get his first chance to show it on the practice fields in Oxnard, California. If he can play at a high level -- he had 32 touchdown passes and 10 picks in 15 games last season -- then the Cowboys should be able to contend for a playoff spot in a division that is not as strong as it has been in the past.

Marinelli to the rescue: The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013, and they enter this season without their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware), last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) and their best playmaker (Sean Lee). Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator and will bring subtle changes in coverages, fronts and blitzes, but the core of the 4-3 scheme will remain the same as when that coaching duo was together at Tampa Bay. The Cowboys did not make any splash signings in free agency, but their most important was Henry Melton. If he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and play the way he did under Marinelli in Chicago, the Cowboys have a chance. Marinelli also plans to lean more on cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in man coverage, but Carr and Claiborne have to play much better in 2014 than they did in 2013. There could be as many as seven new opening day starters on defense this season than in 2013, and it is up to Marinelli to make it work. He had more talent with the Bears when he was running their defense, but the players believe in what he is selling.

Plan of attack: From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.

Best case/worst case: Tony Romo

July, 9, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players who will go a long way toward shaping the Cowboys’ season.

Tony Romo

Best case: He clicks with Scott Linehan

Romo
Romo will be on his third play-caller in as many years with Linehan taking over for Bill Callahan. Jason Garrett handled the job from 2007-12. Though Callahan called the plays last season, Garrett did not completely step aside. This season he will for Linehan. Their offseason together was limited as Romo rehabbed his back, sitting out 11-on-11 drills in the organized team activities and minicamp. Linehan likes to attack down the field, which is something the Cowboys did not do much of last season. Romo averaged a career-low 7.2 yards per attempt in 2013 and had just 44 pass plays of 20 yards or more in his 15 starts. Romo was intercepted only 10 times. Was that a product of being too careful or finding the balance between risk and too careful? Matthew Stafford was unafraid to take chances with Linehan as his coordinator in Detroit, which was at times to the team’s detriment. When Romo is at his best he is part risk-taker, part manager. With a defense that could be as leaky as it was a year ago, the Romo-Linehan partnership will have to work better than the Romo-Callahan partnership and look more like the 2007 version of Romo-Garrett.

Worst case: He can’t stay healthy

Romo expresses no worries about his twice surgically repaired back. The Cowboys express no worry about it either and passed on the chance to take Johnny Manziel in the first round. But Romo has had two surgeries on his back in less than a year and turned 34. Before the back surgeries, the Cowboys believed Romo was younger than his age because he did not play his first three years and was not subject to the pounding of the position. He was sacked 35 times in 15 starts, which was one off the most he had been sacked in his career. The Cowboys open the season against one of the most physical defenses in the league in the San Francisco 49ers. The last time Romo played against the Niners in 2011, he suffered a fractured rib and punctured lung, but he managed to return to that game and led the Cowboys to an overtime win. Romo’s toughness is without question -- he won his final start with his back so bad he needed surgery five days later -- but the Cowboys invested another first-round pick in the offensive line (Zack Martin) to make sure he can make it through a 16-game season.

Stephen Jones: Cowboys O can be great

June, 19, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Much of the focus of the Dallas Cowboys' offseason has been about how to improve a defense that finished 32nd in the NFL last season.

The Cowboys swapped out defensive coordinators, bringing in Rod Marinelli for Monte Kiffin. They have swapped out players, cutting DeMarcus Ware and losing Jason Hatcher. They lost their best defender, Sean Lee, to a knee injury in May. Their highest-profile free-agent signing, Henry Melton, has not taken a team snap as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The biggest re-signing, Anthony Spencer, might not be able to take a snap in training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery.

Despite the historic defensive deficiencies in 2013, the Cowboys were a Week 17 win away from making the playoffs.

With just a slight improvement on defense, the Cowboys believe they can contend for the postseason.

"I agree," executive vice president Stephen Jones said, "and I think we're better on offense than we were last year."

The Cowboys averaged 27.4 points per game last year, which was fifth-most in the league, but they averaged only 341.1 yards per game, which was 16th. They struggled on third down, converting just 35 percent, and they could not finish games by running the ball or chose not to attempt to run the ball.

Jones believes the offense has a chance to be great in 2014.

"Obviously we believe Tony Romo is an elite quarterback and you put the supporting cast with him, that's why picked Zack Martin," Jones said. "I think we're better in the offensive line and you'd hope so if you spent the 16th pick in the draft on one of the better offensive lineman in the draft. You'd like to hope you're better. And we were pretty good last year and I think we'll move that up to where you say, ‘Hey, we've got a chance to have an elite offense.'"

The pieces are there. Romo threw 31 touchdown passes and was intercepted just 10 times in 15 games. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray and Tyron Smith went to the Pro Bowl. With Martin, the Cowboys have three first-round picks on the line with Smith and Travis Frederick. Wide receiver Terrance Williams proved he could be a playmaker last year and will take over for Miles Austin.

The Cowboys will break in their third playcaller in as many years in Scott Linehan after Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan, but Jones likes the freshness Linehan will bring to the offense. The Cowboys are not overhauling the system, but adding Linehan's wrinkles.

"I think he brings a different look," Jones said. "After a while when it's been Jason's offense and Bill ran Jason's offense and called the plays in Jason's offense but at the end of the day we'd been doing that for a while. I think now to add wrinkles and add things to it, I don't think it's going to be, when people get ready to play us, that they know exactly what to expect now."

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

June, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

• When the Cowboys might draft a successor to Tony Romo
• Dead money in 2015
• Special teams' job opportunities
• Can the Cowboys be the Mavericks?
Brandon Carr's contract

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: If Romo remains healthy and plays well, then I think you'll see it happen in 2016. The Cowboys are all-in on Romo. They said as much when they skipped on taking Johnny Manziel. They don't believe in drafting a developmental quarterback, in part because you might be developing him for another team and, truthfully, quarterbacks taken in Rounds 3-7 hardly ever pan out. For every Russell Wilson or Tom Brady, there is a ton more guys like Mike Teel and Stephen McGee. Now, if Romo cannot make it through the season healthy, then I can see the Cowboys going after a quarterback early in 2015. Kyle Orton may or may not play here in 2014, but he is out of a contract in 2015. Brandon Weeden is doing some nice things right now, but I don't think they view him as a potential starter down the road. If you're looking for a franchise quarterback, the odds say take him early. I believe when the Cowboys are ready to move on from Romo, that's when they start to look.

@toddarcher: I wrote about this a few months ago. In Miles Austin, Orton and possibly Doug Free, you're looking at about $11.3 million in dead money in 2015. Austin was a June 1 cut this year, which pushed money into next year's cap. Orton has two voidable years left on his deal that will come forward. Free also has two voidable years left, but the Cowboys might try to extend his deal, which would take away that dead money. The Cowboys have done a good job of cleaning up their cap the past couple of years and will be in good shape in 2015 and excellent shape in 2016. But that doesn't mean they will go crazy in free agency spending money on players they don't know. I really think they have learned their lesson that they don't get their money's worth.

@toddarcher: Cody Mandell will have a chance, but I think he'll clearly have to beat out Chris Jones over the summer. He didn't do it in the organized team activities. For some reason it takes young punters time to get accustomed to the NFL game. Maybe it's the directional kicking that is more prevalent. Jones has a strong leg. Left-footed punters can be tricky for returners because of the spin on the ball. He's also a good holder, and that's important for Dan Bailey. The Cowboys' special teams were good last year. I don't see any changeover from the specialists unless Mandell knocks out the champ, so to speak.

@toddarcher: I'm not sure which way I should take this. If you mean the Cowboys will be the last wild-card team, then I can see that happening, but until I see more visual evidence in training camp, I'm sticking with 8-8 and missing the playoffs. If you mean, the Cowboys' offense will have to carry the day, then, yes, I'd say true. There are just too many questions on defense to expect anything great. The offense, however, has the tools necessary to be one of the best in the league. Maybe I'm too optimistic on this, but I think Scott Linehan will be really good. I think he'll be more aggressive than Jason Garrett or Bill Callahan. I think he will devise ways for Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to beat double teams. All that being said, if the defense can't be at least a little better and get into the low 20s in rankings, then I don't think the Cowboys will make the playoffs.

@toddarcher: He is guaranteed $1 million this year now that he has been on the roster the first day of the league year. That's the last of the guaranteed money. Yes, he will be gone if he doesn't play well this season. If the Cowboys were to cut him in 2015, they would save only roughly $550,000. If they made him a June 1 cut, then it would free up $8 million in space in 2015, but Carr would count $7.4 million against the cap in 2016. To me, it would be better to not spread the hit over two years even though there wouldn't be much savings. I'll give Carr credit for how he has approached this offseason. He knows it is a big one for him. He has changed his approach to the offseason and dropped some weight in hopes of being faster. If he plays solidly, like he did in 2012, then maybe the Cowboys approach him with a pay cut. If he plays great, then I think you might see them restructure the deal potentially to open up cap room. 

Insiders not high on Cowboys' offseason

May, 23, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have not had a flashy offseason by any stretch. Saying goodbye to the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, has been the headliner, and the team did not make a real bid to keep last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher.

I offered up an offseason wrap-up on Thursday, and the ESPN Insiders have put their touches on the offseason. While Mike Sando, Bill Polian, Matt Williamson, Louis Riddick and Field Yates combined to give the Cowboys a passing grade, only two teams did worse: the Carolina Panthers (C-minus) and Indianapolis Colts (D).

To read the league-wide grades Insider, you have to be an Insider, but here is what Sando wrote about the Cowboys’ offseason:

Analysis: The Cowboys had very little salary-cap flexibility through questionable long-term planning. They lost Ware as a result and appear to be no better off on defense, which could keep Dallas in a category with Washington among teams forced to win high-scoring games to contend.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
AP Photo/James D SmithThe Cowboys need a healthy season from pass-rusher Anthony Spencer.
"They really did not do enough to aid a defense that is just bereft of playmakers, especially on the front," Polian said.

Yates gave the Cowboys a B grade and lauded their discipline, but he did not offer an enthusiastic endorsement. The other graders weren't as positive. The GM consulted for this piece gave the Cowboys a C and lamented their lack of an edge pass-rusher. The GM pointed to Anthony Spencer's suspect health and said he thought Dallas would have preferred using its first-round pick on Ryan Shazier, who came off the board one spot earlier.

"They will have to outscore people with a 34-year-old quarterback coming off back surgery," the GM said.

The Cowboys' decision to draft an offensive lineman in the first round went over well. Williamson called Zack Martin the last piece of the offensive puzzle for Dallas. Riddick also loved that pick, but he still gave the Cowboys a C-minus.

"They followed their board and beat that whole drum on that," Riddick said. "Their expectations for Demarcus Lawrence in the second round are higher than what mine are, but other than that, the defense still has major problems at safety, they are banking on Sean Lee being healthy at linebacker and there are too many problem areas overall."
My analysis of the analysis: The Cowboys could have kept Ware by restructuring his contract again, but did not want to kick the salary-cap can down the street again. They also could have made him an offer in the Terrell Suggs neighborhood ($16 million guaranteed) but never made a proposal. They were simply ready to move on.

In essence they traded Henry Melton for Hatcher. Melton is younger but coming back from an ACL tear. If he can come back, then that signing was better than keeping Hatcher, who turns 32 in July and had one great season.

Despite the supposed salary-cap constraints, they could have gone after Julius Peppers and Jared Allen and paid them big money. That might have made the Insiders happy, but it would have hamstrung their abilities to keep Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant. That’s an easy call to make, so they went after low-cost, low-risk signings like Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. Will any of them play better than Ware in 2013? That is their hope.

The Insiders also did not recognize the coaching changes. How much better will Rod Marinelli be than Monte Kiffin? I’d say that is a plus. I think Scott Linehan will be better than Bill Callahan on the offensive side of the ball. That is a plus.

The Cowboys could not answer all of their offseason questions, but they did have a “smart” offseason, and in the NFC East they should be able to compete.

Scott Linehan, back where it began

May, 20, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When Scott Linehan walks out on to the practice fields at the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch facility, he can still remember what it was like in 1987.

Part of what was then a state-of-the-art workout area remains today. The camera booths at either end of the field are still in place, too. There are more neighborhood houses in the background, but the feel remains.

[+] EnlargeScott Linehan
Tim Sharp/AP PhotoNew to the team himself, passing coordinator Scott Linehan assists the Cowboys' rookies during minicamp on Friday, May 16.
Linehan was an undrafted free agent out of Idaho in 1987. He was among the cast of thousands Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt brought in for a look. A shoulder injury, however, kept him from showing what he could do. The Cowboys flew him out to Thousand Oaks, California, for training camp and while he did put on a helmet he was cut before he could put on pads.

Twenty-seven years later, Linehan is now the Cowboys' passing game coordinator. He will not put on pads when the Cowboys go to California -- this time to Oxnard, not Thousand Oaks, but his importance to the success of the Cowboys in 2014 cannot be understated.

"Kind of nostalgic for me to be out here for this one," Linehan said after the first day of last week's rookie minicamp.

Unlike last year's playcaller, Bill Callahan, Linehan will have a free hand in running the offense. Callahan called plays for Jason Garrett's offense and the coach was involved in the playcalling process down the stretch last season, relaying the plays to the quarterback in the huddle.

Linehan will have no middle man. This is his offense. Most of the verbiage will remain the same, since he and Garrett ran similar systems, but there will be changes.

"It would be a disservice to not continue a lot of the great things that Jason and Bill and the guys have implemented here in the past few years," Linehan said. "Then as the timing fits for us ... we get through our OTAs to start to mesh some of the things that make sense."

Not surprisingly, Linehan did not agree with the assertion that the Cowboys have too many voices on offense with Garrett, Callahan and even quarterback Tony Romo, whose involvement in devising game plans will continue in 2014.

"That kind of expertise in one room?" Linehan said. "To have a staff with the qualifications I feel we have is truly a strength."

In 2005, Garrett's first coaching job came under Linehan with the Miami Dolphins. They remained tight over the years and their friendship played a big part in why Linehan came to the Cowboys.

Garrett said they share similar convictions in attacking defenses with the running game and passing game, getting the ball to their playmakers and playing to the players' strengths.

Linehan once directed one of the NFL's best running games with the Minnesota Vikings when Randy Moss was at the top of his game. Steven Jackson had a 1,500-yard season with the St. Louis Rams when Linehan was head coach.

But his most recent five-year run with the Detroit Lions has many convinced Linehan is a pass-happy coordinator, even moreso than Garrett. From 2011-13, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, threw for 14,655 yards and 90 touchdowns with 52 interceptions and Calvin Johnson caught 302 passes for 5,137 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Before 2013, the Lions did not have a running game rank better than 23rd. With the addition of Reggie Bush, Detroit had the 17th-ranked rushing offense.

"Between our first and second back we had almost 1,700 yards rushing," Linehan said. "That was as good as they have done in 10 years. You just lean to your personnel."

The Cowboys will still lean to the pass with Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. But DeMarco Murray is coming off a 1,100-yard season and Zack Martin became the third offensive linemen to be picked in the first round by the Cowboys in the last four years two weeks ago.

"You start with running it effectively," Linehan said. "You achieve balance in the NFL by playing good football throughout three quarters, gaining that lead and then you've got a lead going into the fourth quarter. The teams that run the ball the best, that run the ball balanced, generally are getting a lot of their damage done in that late third, early fourth quarter. You get behind the score then you say you want to do (run the ball). You don't want to abandon it, but you're going to lean toward throwing the ball a little more. So that's to me, I think, the thing with the offensive line, that's a no-brainer. This is a great young front. Added a great piece to it. It was already an offensive line that was really meshing and playing well. We don't have to have this certain look to run the ball. We feel like we can line up and say hey, if they're going to drop guys into the box, we still feel like we've got the guys that can get it done. And then that helps everything. That opens everything on the outside of the field."
IRVING, Texas -- If Bill Callahan wanted to be brutally honest, he could complain about the Dallas Cowboys refusing to allow him to interview this offseason with other teams interested in hiring him as an offensive coordinator.

But that wouldn’t do any good for Callahan, who kept the offensive coordinator title but was stripped of his play-calling duties when the Cowboys hired Scott Linehan. And it certainly wouldn’t do any good for the Cowboys, who denied requests from the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens to discuss their offensive coordinator jobs with Callahan.

Callahan
“I’ve just taken on a mindset and a focus to do the best job I can no matter where I’m at and what the situation is and the opportunities that present themselves,” Callahan said. “My focus is just really our offensive line and improving them day in and day out and getting them better.

“I just take on the mindset that things happen for a reason. I live with that and I move on. I make the best of every situation I’m in. I’ve never worried about anything else. I’ve always had confidence in myself and my abilities to do a good job. My focus has always been to do a great job where I’m at, and everything else takes care of itself. I’m not concerned about any of that stuff.”

The Cowboys have put Callahan in an awkward situation by forcing him to stay when he would have preferred to call plays elsewhere. They are counting on his professionalism to make it a non-issue.

Of course, the Cowboys also put Callahan in an awkward situation last season, when owner/general manager Jerry Jones forced head coach Jason Garrett to give up the play-calling duties. Callahan called plays, but the Cowboys kept Garrett’s system instead of going to Callahan’s West Coast offense.

The results were mixed. The Cowboys ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring with 27.4 points per game, their most since 2007, but some of that improvement can be attributed to the defense’s improvement in forcing turnovers. Dallas was 16th in the league in total yardage (341.1 yards per game), the Cowboys’ lowest ranking since Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter shared the starting quarterback job in 2002.

“That’s all in the past,” Callahan said when asked to evaluate the job he did as the Cowboys’ play-caller. “I just continue to focus in. My mindset is looking towards the future and what we’re doing here with the offensive line and my role and my responsibilities now. I really don’t look back. I just keep working forward and trying to do the best I can.”

The Cowboys didn’t allow Callahan to leave because they consider him one of the NFL’s elite offensive line coaches. The Valley Ranch decision-makers determined that they wanted Callahan to continue overseeing the development of a unit that has gone from a glaring weakness to a strength for the Cowboys under his watch.

“He’s just a great coach,” Garrett said. “He’s one of those coaches that I like to go sit in his meetings. I like to go to his side of the field when he’s working drills. You can see the guys get better before your eyes.

“The fact that he and [assistant offensive line coach] Frank Pollack have such a good relationship working with those offensive linemen, I think it’s a great environment for those guys to learn in, and for us to develop really, really quickly, not only individually but for those guys as a group.”

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
May 14
9:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

SportsNation

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • Why the Cowboys would even consider drafting offense in the first round.
  • Why the Cowboys could draft offensive line in the first round.
  • Why the coaching staff could look a lot different.
  • Why I think the Cowboys would pass on Teddy Bridgewater.

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

Jerry Jones speaks for Bill Callahan

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
2:00
PM ET
During a chat with reporters, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones defended the team's decision to take play-calling duties away from Bill Callahan.

Jones
Jones
Jones said all Callahan wanted was to know what the roles were.

The Cowboys removed the play-calling duties from Callahan and gave them to Scott Linehan. Callahan wanted to leave the Cowboys due to this decision and was denied the ability to do so.

The Cowboys cited Callahan's solid work with the offensive line, which produced a Pro Bowl season from left tackle Tyron Smith.

"He's professional and a good one, an outstanding one," Jones said. "Bill would be the first one to tell you, and I'll tell you for him: He just wants good, nice bright lines as to what our responsibilities are and what we need to be doing. That's easier to say than to do. Not only in coaching, but many things. All he wanted to do, let's try to brighten the lines up. Let's get clearer as to some of our duties."

Callahan, like coach Jason Garrett, enters the last year of his contract with the Cowboys, so regardless of what happens in 2014 somebody likely won't be here.

Callahan is a solid coach, but was placed in a situation of calling plays for an offensive system he didn't have a deep knowledge on. Callahan is versed in the West Coast offense, but coaching is coaching, right?

In the offseason, he spent his vacation at Valley Ranch learning the concepts of the offense to make sure he got things right. Yet, Callahan, much like Garrett, had some problems in calling enough running plays and getting Dez Bryant involved in the offense on a consistent basis.

"The head coach has a right, almost has a duty to adjust every year and adjust his staff and adjust what [the] staff is doing, relative to his experience in the past year or past years," Jones said. "It goes on every day. So, [Callahan] a professional coach, been a head coach, both college and pro and so, he knows his agreement to coach for the Cowboys and that was not tough at all to say we're not about to [let him go]. We had many opportunities, from other clubs, other clubs wanted him, several, that's the last thing we need to be doing, is losing a good coach, losing not only an offensive line coach but really losing a good offensive coach."

Chat leftovers: Missing on best chance

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- It's time for some leftovers from Wednesday's hour-long chat with you guys.

We had more than 120 questions posted during that time and it's impossible to handle all of them, so we'll choose five extra questions for the weekly "leftovers" post. Quick question for the house: Best leftover, pizza or Chinese food?

In the best player available strategy, I'm leaning toward pizza.

Anyway, away we go:

David Huffman. Connecticut: How many failed attempts at assembling a roster capable of playing good football deep into the postseason will it take for Jerry to say, "OK, I don't have the ability to properly evaluate the players I'm drafting and signing to this team?"

Jones
Jones
Todd Archer: I wouldn't hold your breath on this one, David. You might turn purple. But I will point out that the Cowboys had what was considered some of the best personnel in the game for a stretch from say 2007-10 and if Jerry is responsible for the state of the personnel right now, then he was responsible for the personnel then. And, yes, I realize Bill Parcells had a huge influence on the roster in those years, but he didn't get everything he wanted. As I see it, the problem is the Cowboys missed their window. They had pretty good shots in 2006-09 and won one playoff game. The one that hurts the most is the 2007 season. It was set up for them to take the NFC and they failed. Wade Phillips gave them the out late in the '07 season by letting up. The team did not react the right way, and I'm not talking about a trip to Cabo or anything like that. After the Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers that year they lost their momentum and couldn't get it back, losing to the Giants at home. If they win that game -- or the Seattle playoff game the previous year -- and I think a lot of these narratives that have come about are entirely different. Since the Cowboys missed that window, they have been chasing it ever since without success and the personnel has not been as good the last three or four years, despite the proclamations from those far away that the Cowboys have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They haven't had that. They have had good 'name' players but spots 15-53 on the roster have been lacking.

Casey (Boise, ID): So what exactly are Callahan's duties with Linehan now in town? Will he have any influence with the play calling? Is he only in charge of the OL group? All the titles confuse me? Passing game coordinator but will call all the offensive plays???

Callahan
Todd Archer: Sorry I missed this one, Casey. This is a good question. Bill Callahan goes back to being the offensive line coach and run game coordinator, which is essentially what he was in 2012. He will give Scott Linehan options with running plays but make no mistake about it, Linehan will be calling the shots. The Cowboys will try to gloss over all of this of course and Callahan will publicly say all the right things, but how the Cowboys handled this maneuvering in the offseason is as baffling as how they handled the playcalling duties last offseason. They should have let Callahan go to Cleveland or Baltimore or wherever once the playcalling was taken away from him.

Nate (South Dakota): Any chance Jerry goes back to the past and brings in some more players from the '70s and '80s into the Ring of Honor? I would really like to see Charlie Waters, Harvey Martin, and maybe even Daryl Johnston in the Ring. Any chance?

Todd Archer: Nothing stirs the masses like the Ring of Honor. I like the two names you mentioned from the 1970s and I think Ed 'Too Tall' Jones has a case too. Charlie Waters and Harvey Martin were difference makers on the Super Bowl teams. Same with Too Tall. And he spanned the Jerry Era too. Daryl Johnston is a good name to consider as well, but the first guy from the '90s teams that I would add is Darren Woodson. He was a terrific player who was saddled with bad teams in the early 2000s and just as the Cowboys were about to turn it around his back gave out. Woodson would be right up there in my book. He should get Hall of Fame consideration too. Think about Woodson's impact this way: The Cowboys still haven't replaced him.

David (Southlake): Todd, given what Bears gave to Allen, shouldn't Cowboys have pursued him instead of Melton? Melton is coming off a major injury whereas Allen has a proven track record.

Allen
Todd Archer: You don't pay free agents based on track record. Jared Allen is 32. He has had a terrific career and might have a couple more great seasons left in him with the Chicago Bears, but that doesn't mean he would have been the right fit here. If the Cowboys weren't going to pay DeMarcus Ware, whom they knew best, or Julius Peppers, whom they knew quite well too, then they were not going to shell out money for Allen, who has no connections to the staff. It would have been the continuation of paying older players for what they have done, not what they will do. The Cowboys' plan this offseason has been simple: spend wisely on younger players, draft well in May and hope players in house make a ton of improvement. Will it work? I can't answer that question today, but that's the best way to go about it rather than hoping a thirtysomething has something left in the tank. Melton, who will probably make about $4 million this season, is just 27 and the Cowboys have a get-out-of-jail free card if he doesn't perform if they choose not to exercise the option. I'd be more willing to bet on a young player coming off an injury than an older player looking for a big pay day.

Shawn (NC Mountains): Given that Philly, Washington and Giants have made some impressive moves in free agency. Are the Cowboys the worst team in our division?

Todd Archer: If you want to give out trophies for offseason work that is less than a month old, then sure the Cowboys are the worst team in the division. But how many times have the Redskins won the Super Bowl in an offseason only to implode? What happened to the Eagles' dream team from a few years ago? I'm not picking the Cowboys to win the division or make the playoffs, but I'm not saying it's impossible either. There are a lot of moves left to make. The Cowboys have been the only team to compete for the NFC East title the last three seasons, so there is talent here. It just needs more supplementing before the games start in September. Maybe that's too optimistic of a view.

Jones: Experience around Garrett a plus

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – Just as a reminder, Jason Garrett is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys even if he will no longer be as involved in his specialty (offense), while spending more time in the defensive room in 2014.

But owner and general manager Jerry Jones has made it seem as if Garrett has needed training wheels to be a head coach far too often.

Garrett has three former NFL head coaches on his staff in passing game coordinator Scott Linehan (St. Louis Rams), defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli (Detroit Lions) and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan (Oakland Raiders).

He has two more college head coaches on his staff in receivers coach Derek Dooley and assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia interviewed for two head coaching vacancies in the offseason (Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns).

“He encourages and welcomes and seeks out the idea of having those experienced head coaches involved,” Jones said from at the recent NFL scouting combine. “You add that to Monte Kiffin and we have a staff of resources to Jason that are really impressive. For Jason’s future, to have these head coaches, these people who’ve go the experience in what they’re doing, Mike Pope included, this is the greatest way in the world to put into Jason’s computer great head coaching experience.”

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