OXNARD, Calif. -- For the first time in what seems like forever, the Dallas Cowboys open training camp with legitimate confidence in their offensive line.
Over the past few years, that unit has gone from a glaring weakness to a great strength. The Cowboys have invested three recent first-round picks (left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin) in rebuilding the offensive line. Dallas now has one of the league’s elite lines.
The Cowboys insist the strength of the offensive line will be reflected in the play-calling.
“We will be running the ball more,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said.
The Cowboys were one of the most pass-happy teams in the league the past two seasons, ranking second to last in rushing attempts in each year. That was somewhat understandable in 2012, when the Cowboys couldn’t run effectively on a consistent basis, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. But the Cowboys averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season -- tied for seventh in the league -- and were still quick to abandon the run.
New offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was often pass-happy during his previous stop in Detroit, but the consensus vow is that the Cowboys will be a physical offense that features Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray.
“I think we’ve been pretty successful when DeMarco has gotten over 20 carries. Our winning percentage is pretty good,” Jones said, an understatement considering the Cowboys' 11-0 record when Murray gets at least 20 carries. “So yes, I’d like to see us in the top 10 in terms of our rushing attack. I think that’s a good recipe in terms of us winning.”
Abandoning the run is a recipe for disaster for Dallas. It puts too much on the surgically repaired back of 34-year-old quarterback Tony Romo and exposes a defense that ranked dead last in the league last season.
There is no good reason for the Cowboys not to rely on a good running game. There are several good reasons for the Cowboys to pound away on the ground, starting with those three first-rounders up front.
“When you hear me talk about some marquee players, some cornerstone players on our team, we feel like we have them up front on the offensive line,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Your demeanor on offense can change. You can run the ball better, you can dominate the game, you can be more physical throughout the game to wear a team down at the end of the game, to be able to win in some of those situations where when you’re not strong up front, maybe you have to do some things that you don’t necessarily want to do.”
There have been legitimate questions about whether Garrett, the former quarterback, really wants to commit to the run. It would be a fireable offense if the Cowboys don't this season.