Building the Cowboys' running game

OXNARD, Calif. -- Bill Callahan, the new offensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is doing a lot of teaching in training camp. After the rest of the players and coaches have left the field following the morning walk-through, Callahan's still out on the field working with linemen, coaching them up even as they walk back toward their rooms.

But a lot of what Callahan's doing here is also learning. Given the task of overhauling the Cowboys' running game, Callahan is most interested in learning what his linemen and running backs can handle.

"We have really tried to solidify and package our run game into different concepts," Callahan said Monday morning. "The zone concept, the gap concept, the draw concept, the perimeter concept, misdirection concept. We want to have enough in our arsenal so we can go attack an opponent with those principles. And as we go through camp, I'm watching our players and our backs and really evaluating what they do best. So there's a lot of volume in training camp, but it's good because you get a good assessment and appraisal of where the players are with everything you have and then you select from that."

It has not helped, of course, that so many of Callahan's offensive linemen have been injured and unable to practice. The Cowboys had hoped to have newcomers Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings at guard and even give Bernadeau some time at center to potentially push Phil Costa. Callahan's a glass-half-full guy, though, and he'd rather talk about the great opportunity David Arkin is getting to play center on the second-team line as well as guard with the first-teamers. With Arkin, and to a lesser extent Harland Gunn, Callahan is learning what he's got in his young guards and whether they'll be able to play center down the road.

New fullback Lawrence Vickers is also helping with the learning process. A six-year NFL veteran who played fullback last year for a Houston Texans team that ranked No. 2 in the league in rush offense, Vickers has helped bring some of the Texans' zone concepts to Dallas, where Callahan would like to incorporate them as part of that arsenal.

"The Houston Texans know how to run the football," Callahan said. "We're not the Texans. We don't run that system. But he's very well acquainted with everything within the realm of their blocking schemes, and what he can transfer to us has been very important."

That doesn't automatically mean you're going to see the Cowboys leaning exclusively on zone concepts in the run game this year. The point, as Callahan is trying to make clear, is variety. If they can be a zone team one week because that attacks one opponent's weakness, and then do more perimeter running the following week because they're facing an opponent that's weak there and so on and so forth, that's the ideal scenario.

"I think we just have a very well-balanced attack right now," Callahan said. "Is the zone part of our game? Yes, we run the zone. Is it just majoring in the zone? No. There's all types of aspects that we're featuring."

Right now, early in training camp, it's all about learning what everyone's good at what they'll be able to feature from week to week once the games start counting.