Cowboys putting faith in line, not backs

IRVING, Texas – There are a couple of chicken-or-the-egg theories in football. Does a pass rush make a secondary, or does a secondary make a pass rush?

The Dallas Cowboys are hoping it’s a little of both by taking cornerback Byron Jones in the first round and defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round.

But when it comes to the other theory – does the runner make the running game, or does the offensive line make it? – there is no doubt which way the Cowboys are leaning.

After not selecting a running back in the recent draft, the Cowboys are all in on the offensive line.

While they are leaving the door open to additions later, the Cowboys are rolling with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams as the replacement for DeMarco Murray and the Offensive Player of the Year’s 1,845 rushing yards.

The names that will matter more, however, are Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free.

“I think it’s probably a little bit of faith in us, but I think it’s also faith in the running backs we have right now,” Frederick said Sunday at the Taste of the NFL event at AT&T Stadium. “It’s a really good group of guys. I’m really excited to watch them run, especially run together as kind of a 3-headed monster. LD is so quick and shifty, then we got Joe who just hits the hole and makes such crazy cuts, and obviously Darren is in there and he’s a difference-maker.”

The Cowboys invested first-round picks in Smith, Frederick and Martin. They reinvested to the tune of $40 million guaranteed in Smith last summer and kept Free for another $15 million this offseason. Smith and Martin were named All-Pro last year. Frederick was named to the Pro Bowl.

The Cowboys weren’t willing to go higher than $12 million guaranteed for Murray, who received $21 million from the Philadelphia Eagles. They were never really in on any Adrian Peterson talks. They liked a lot of the running backs available in the draft but not enough to move up even a handful of spots to get one.

As for those veteran free agents available now, such as Ray Rice and Chris Johnson, the Cowboys are turning their noses up in the air the way the head cheerleader waits for the star quarterback to ask her to the prom.

“Obviously, (Murray) was a big loss,” Martin said. “He was such a great player and such a great teammate. But, like Travis said, I think everyone in that organization has faith in the guys we have. And I know as offensive line, we have all the faith in the world. And getting Darren and kind of knowing his history, we know he's a big-time player. So it's exciting to go in fresh this season and kind of learn how we're going to gel together."

The Randle, McFadden, Dunbar, Williams quartet combined for fewer yards last year than what Murray put up in seven games.

Martin said the only time he knows which running back is in the huddle is sometimes on third down. Maybe he doesn’t know any better because Murray was almost always in the huddle, carrying the ball a franchise-record 392 times last season.

Frederick, however, put the lack of awareness on who gets the ball in how the runners are taught.

“What they try to do for the most part, from my understanding, is make sure they hit the hole the same way,” Frederick said. “After that, they do their thing. They want that to be the same so the offensive line doesn’t have to change based on who’s in the game.”

There is a long way to go before the Cowboys open the season against the New York Giants. Maybe the Cowboys will make a play for a runner on the open market. Maybe they make some sort of trade for a runner.

The offseason is young. Wednesday is just the second day of on-field teaching sessions with the coaches.

All eyes will be on the Cowboys’ runners this year, but it will be the line that will determine their success.

“From what I can tell you from this offseason alone, it’s a group of guys that works incredibly hard,” Frederick said. “They want to be the best. They want to step up and take over that load that DeMarco is leaving behind. We’ve seen all those guys working out, guys come in and work out with the offensive line. They show that they actually want that connection and they care about us. Obviously we care about them and we want them to do well.”