Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Scott Linehan, back where it began
By Todd Archer
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.
New 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.
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."