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Msg  40 of 46  at  6/4/2014 6:48:20 PM  by




DeMarco Murray ready for any job, but what role will Cowboys' play-caller Scott Linehan give him?

Tom Fox/Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett huddles up his players during a timeout during OTA's at Valley Ranch, Monday, June 2, 2014. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

IRVING — Off to the side, away from his teammates, DeMarco Murray worked alone Monday on a blocking sled.

Over and over, he’d stutter-step and turn before thrusting his body and pushing the padded dummy attached to the bulky apparatus. This was grunt work. Yet it had to be done. Over the years, Murray has become valued as a skilled pass protector, providing an additional shield for quarterback Tony Romo in an offense predicated on throwing the ball. It’s a thankless job that Murray does without complaint.

“I don’t care what we do — running, passing. As long as we’re winning, I am happy,” he said.

But Murray likes to get his hands on the ball, too, because good things happen when he does. In games when he receives 20 or more carries, the Cowboys are 11-0.

It’s a striking stat considering that Dallas is 24-24 since Murray entered the NFL in 2011. But throughout Murray’s tenure with the club, the Cowboys have been reluctant to feature him as they’ve tried to defeat opponents with an offense powered almost exclusively by Romo’s arm.

Now enter Scott Linehan, the Cowboys’ play-caller who doubles as the team’s passing game coordinator. The second title is telling because it reveals much about his natural tendencies as a coach.

Linehan, after all, likes to throw the ball. Between 2009 and 2013, when Linehan directed Detroit’s offense, no NFL club attempted more passes than the Lions. During that period, the running game became an underutilized branch in Detroit’s attack. Never was that more apparent than in the 2012 season, when the Lions had the lowest percentage of carries in the league.

“We threw it a lot in Detroit, but a lot of our passing game was designed to be a lot of what we didn’t feel we had in the running game,” Linehan said.

With Dallas, Linehan doesn’t believe he’ll have to overcompensate the same way because there is no obvious weakness to disguise. Linehan came to that conclusion after reviewing game film from the team’s 2013 campaign.

What he noticed during those cram sessions is a ground attack that was efficient. The Cowboys gained 4.48 yards per carry — the eighth-highest average in the NFL and almost a full yard more than what Dallas averaged in 2012. An offensive line in transition finally congealed and developed a firm understanding of the team’s zone blocking scheme that Bill Callahan, Linehan’s play-calling predecessor, first implemented two years ago.

Murray, meanwhile, rebounded from a disappointing sophomore campaign. Last season, he became the first Cowboys player since 2006 to rush for more than 1,000 yards as he earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl.

“DeMarco has always been a hard runner,” guard Mackenzy Bernadeau said. “He runs his behind off. He’s good at making the reads and making the cuts. Getting a repetition of the plays, knowing how we’re going to block the scheme, knowing what to look for when he’s making his cuts and reads, it just took time. It takes time.”

In spite of the positive results, the Cowboys’ faith in their running game wavered to the point that they curiously deserted it when it was functioning well. The most obvious case of reckless abandonment occurred in a disastrous 37-36 loss to Green Bay last December, when the Cowboys frittered away a 23-point lead in the second half and marginalized Murray despite his game average of 7.4 yards per rush attempt.

“The times we have success, I think everybody was doing their job,” Murray said. “It’s all about being on the same page and trusting technique and trusting coaches.”

Murray hopes, in turn, his superiors believe enough in him that they feel he has what it takes to shoulder the load and deliver victories just as Romo is expected to do. Linehan says he has confidence the Cowboys’ top running back is capable of that.

“Murray can do it,” he said.

But it remains to be seen whether the Cowboys will make Murray an accessory or a driving force in their offense, a glorified pass protector or the team’s bell cow running back. Whatever they choose, Murray says he’ll go to work just as he did Monday while facing down the blocking sled that stood in his way.

He knows that more obstacles — some more abstract than others — may await.

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