IRVING – Dallas Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown likes the players he’s tutoring.
“They are mature guys,” Brown said of lead horse DeMarco Murray, backups Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar and fifth-round pick Joseph Randle, who signed a four-year deal worth more than $2 million Monday. “They are guys who want to win, work hard and be the best they can possibly be.’
But being a fan of his backs doesn’t necessarily mean Brown is on the same page with them when it comes to their running styles. For instance, he and Murray differ over the controversial crown-of-helmet rule the NFL Competition Committee passed in March.
The new rule, designed to make the game safer, penalizes players for lowering the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box.
Murray last week became the latest NFL tailback to express his disappointment with the rule, following the lead of such standouts as Adrian Peterson, Trent Richardson, Ray Rice and Matt Forte, who called it “absurd.”
Speaking to reporters at a charity event, Murray said he has no plans to tone down his aggressive style, which includes strong finishing kicks and, yes, an occasional lowered helmet. “I’m not changing my running style,” Murray said. “If I get fined, hopefully (Tony) Romo will take care of the first couple for me. I’m doing it for him.”
While Romo’s six-year, $108 million contract extension gives him the funds to cover his teammates’ fines for the rest of their careers, Brown is hopeful the quarterback won’t have to dig into his pockets to bail out Murray.
Asked about Murray’s penchant for seeking contact, Brown said last week, “I noticed that. I’ve seen that. We’ve talked about it. We are going to have a plan to try to get better than that. He’s explosive enough that he can freeze people’s feet and get away from them and do the things he needs to do to gain more yards.
“With he and I working together to get him better, it should be a great thing.”
Brown, a former Houston Oilers running back who joined Dallas after it fired Skip Peete in January, actually likes the rule and thinks it will benefit Murray.
“What is going to happen is he’s going to be better because he will be able to see,” Brown said. “He will have to keep his eyes up, his head up.”
But it’s the safety aspect of the rule Brown likes best.
“We want them to be safe,” he said. “We want them after their careers are done to be able to play with their children and things like that. So it is a bigger picture. It’s for their future.”
Injuries have been an issue for the 6-foot, 215-pound Murray ever since Dallas drafted him in the third round in 2011. The Oklahoma-ex missed three games his rookie year and six in 2012 but still managed to lead the club in rushing both seasons (897 yards in 2011, 663 in 2012).
While Brown said he’s powerless to prevent the ankle and foot issues that have plagued Murray, he’s certain the new rule will help prevent catastrophic injuries.
“If you keep your head up, you can see what’s going on,” Brown said. “If you drop your head…you are going to break your neck eventually. “It’s a good thing. You can still stay low and keep your head up. That’s what the thing was when (the rule) first came out, ‘Oh, running backs aren’t going to be able to protect themselves.’ Well, that’s not true. We are always going to run low to the ground. We’re just going to keep our heads up.”
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett suggested the club must walk a fine line when tinkering with Murray’s style.
“One of the things we like about him is he finishes runs,” Garrett said of Murray. “You think it might be blocked for three or four yards and he makes five or six because of how he finishes.
“You don’t want to lose that. At the same time, you want to make guys miss. You want to make longer runs and, at the end of runs, not be so susceptible to contact. But, again, you don’t want to lose that finish trait we like about him.”
RELATED: Coach Brown’s thoughts on drafted backs, new blocking scheme
IRVING – With 1,265 rushing yards last season, the Cowboys ranked next to last in the NFL and established a franchise low for a 16-game season. New running backs coach Gary Brown, though, is optimistic there will be improvement this season with a healthier DeMarco Murray, the addition of fifth-round pick Joseph Randle and some new blocking schemes.
Murray has missed nine games due to injuries the last two seasons, so Brown has his fingers crossed that the Oklahoma-ex in 2013 will finally put in a full season.
“There’s nothing a coach can do (to prevent injury),” Brown said. “You can just coach him hard and try to encourage him and try to just make sure he’s doing the right thing to take care of his body because of lot of those injuries are freak things. Nothing we can do about it. He just has to be blessed with a 16-game season and, hopefully, that will happen.”
Brown is a big fan of Randle, who was limited at rookie minicamp because of a cast to protect his injured thumb.
“I think he is a great player,” Brown said of Randle, an Oklahoma State-ex. “We are happy to have him. Just happy he was there for us, and he’s going to fit in real well.”
Asked why Randle slid to the fifth round, Brown said, “It’s a lottery. I don’t know why. (Former Denver running back) Terrell Davis slipped to the sixth and he had a 2,000 yard season. You don’t know why (Houston star) Arian Foster never got drafted. Things just happen. This whole draft thing, it ain’t a perfect science. We make mistakes, so that’s what it is.”
Speaking of Houston, the Cowboys plan to take a page out of the Texans’ playbook and run more zone blocking schemes. “We feel like we have players that can run it, blocking that can do it, so we are going to emphasize it and get better at it,” Brown said.
Say what you will about Jerry Jones, but the Dallas Cowboys owner didn’t lie when he promised it would get “very uncomfortable” at Valley Ranch after a second straight 8-8 season. Rob Ryan was sent packing as defensive coordinator and replaced by 72-year-old Monte Kiffin, who will switch the Cowboys to a 4-3 scheme. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan likely will inherit play-calling duties from coach Jason Garrett. Running backs coach Skip Peete was fired and replaced by Gary Brown.
Biggest free agents
» OLB/DE Anthony Spencer: With Kiffin moving to a 4-3, the Cowboys need another strong presence on the edge opposite DeMarcus Ware. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones has great respect for Spencer, and the team has the option of using the franchise tag.
» RB Felix Jones: A former first-round pick, Jones had a shot at Dallas redemption when DeMarco Murray went down for six games with a foot injury. Jones (playing on two bad knees) couldn’t fill the void, one reason why the Cowboys set a franchise low for rushing yards in a 16-game season.
» CB Mike Jenkins: The additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne put Jenkins in limbo last season, and a slow recovery from shoulder surgery didn’t help. He worked in the slot after Orlando Scandrick went down, making little impact. He’s expected to look for a starting job on the open market.
Other key free agents: C Phil Costa, SS Danny McCray, WR Kevin Ogletree.
What they need
The Cowboys are overdue for a makeover along their offensive line. It was a problem all season, and quarterback Tony Romo’s mobility is the only thing that kept this unit from total embarrassment. Tyron Smith is a good fit at left tackle, but upgrades should be sought elsewhere. If Jones has run out of chances, the Cowboys would be wise to find a capable backup for Murray, a supremely talented but seemingly injury-prone starter. The Cowboys must protect themselves at strong safety, where Barry Church is attempting to come back from a torn Achilles tendon.
Offseason crystal ball
The Cowboys are currently $20 million over the cap and will need to restructure contracts with several players to get under. In other words, don’t expect a big fish to land in Big D next month. Improving the offensive and defensive line likely will be a focus during the NFL Draft. With Romo turning 33 before Week 1, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys draft a developmental quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds.
While he was able to do that, the focus shifted quickly to the issue of play-calling and the possible change next season involving Bill Callahan’s role on the sidelines.
Whether or not Callahan’s situation will be different, many faces surrounding him certainly will be.
Garrett shared some stories about the new coaches, including his involvement with the former Buccaneers assistants Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Rich Bisaccia when Garrett played for Tampa Bay in 2004.
Here’s a short briefing from Garrett on each of his new assistants, including Wes Phillips who has been here for six seasons but is now the new tight ends coach.
Garrett on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin: Early on, I think he was on to me because every day
after practice I would walk up to him and ask him a football question. He’s a very generous and gracious guy. I learned not only from watching him and how he handled himself and meetings, but just being around him. He’s very gracious and generous. We developed a relationship back then. My respect level for him is really off the charts. We’re fortunate to have him here to coordinate this defense. He’s done it better than anyone else has.
Garrett on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli: He’s one of those guys who talks about the greatness of
the game of football. He talks about preparing the right way. There’s great honor about playing and coaching this game and doing it the right way. The way he conducted himself that year I was around him, was really, really impressive to me. As impressive as a football coach as I’ve ever been around.
Garrett on special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia: He’s been one of the premier teams guys in the league. He just has an infectious personality. It’s particularly important for a special teams coach.
He’s got a great demeanor. The players play as hard for him as I’ve ever seen players play for any coach. He’s a great teacher, loves the game. He’ll be a great resource for us. He’ll make this team better.
Garrett on wide receiver coach Derek Dooley: When I was a player here in the 90’s, he was coaching receivers at SMU. Our relationship goes back that far. We coached together on Nick Saban’s staff with the Dolphins in 2005-06. We’ve known each other well. He played receiver at Virginia and has a great receiver background. He and I know each other well. He knows our system and I think that transition will be really good for us.
Garrett on tight end coach Wes Phillips: He’s really someone who is my right-hand man. We spent some time together putting the offense in a number of years ago. He’s really been a great asset and resource for me. Wes was a quarterback himself and coached receivers earlier in his career.
Garrett on running back coach Gary Brown: He’s really a guy I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I’ve known him for afar and competed against him. This is really a football guy. I’m excited about him. Often times, guys that play in the NFL don’t have a willingness to do what’s necessary to coach at this level. He’s a really bright guy. He’s someone who is a really, really good teacher. I know him the least of the guys we hired but I might be as excited about him as anybody else.
Garrett on asst. offensive line coach Frank Pollack: Frank played for Bill Callahan at Northern Arizona in the late 80’s and they go way back. Some of the contributions he can make, along with his relationship with Bill, can make us a really good football team.
Jason Garrett likes where the Cowboys are offensively, but he also thinks they can be even better.
The Dallas Cowboys coach said they have evaluated the offense over the past six seasons since he arrived in Dallas as offensive coordinator. The past six seasons combined, the Cowboys rank fourth in total offense (370.7 yards per game), seventh in scoring (24.1), fourth in passing (262.0) and 22nd in rushing (108.6).
“You look at those things, and you say, ‘Boy, a lot of that stuff is pretty good,'” Garrett said. “You say, ‘OK, we want to build on that stuff. We want to continue down that track with our offensive football team.'”
Garrett, however, will give up play-calling duties for 2013. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan likely will take over that role. The Cowboys made four changes to their offensive coaching staff, with Wes Phillips moving from assistant line coach to tight ends coach, newcomer Frank Pollack taking over as assistant offensive line coach, Derek Dooley being hired as receivers coach and Gary Brown coming in as running backs coach.
The Cowboys will see some changes in personnel, too, though maybe not many with Felix Jones, Kevin Ogletree and John Phillips as the only unrestricted free agents on offense. None of those three is a starter. Center Phil Costa is a restricted free agent. Dallas again might be looking to shore up its offensive line after adding a pair of free agent guards in Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau last off-season.
“This is an opportunity to add some people, add some influence to our offense,” Garrett said, “and hopefully it’s a tweak for us that can help us get a little bit better and help us break through as a football team. So that’s really the approach right now. We want to stay on the same track, but also we want to add coaches to our staff that can really help us break through.”
Despite being one of the league’s best offenses, the Cowboys are 55-41 over the past six years with only two playoff berths. They are 1-2 in postseason games in that stretch.
The Dallas Cowboys filled their final coaching staff vacancy with the hiring of former Houston Oiler Gary Brown to oversee the running backs.
Brown spent the past four seasons in Cleveland, where his backs included Trent Richardson, who rushed for 950 yards and scored 11 touchdowns this past season.
A Penn State alum, Brown played eight seasons in the NFL after the Oilers drafted him in the eighth round in 1991, finishing his career with 4,300 yards and 21 TDs. He replaces Skip Peete, who was fired after six seasons with the Cowboys.
RELATED: Dallas Cowboys hire Gary Brown as RBs coach
The Cowboys have completed their coaching staff with the hiring of a running backs coach. Dallas has hired Gary Brown.
Brown has spent the past four seasons in Cleveland. Browns running back Trent Richardson was the league’s 18th-ranked rusher and third among rookies, with 950 yards. Richardson also scored 11 touchdowns. Peyton Hillis was Brown’s only 1,000-yard rusher in four seasons, as Hillis gained 1,177 yards in 2010.
Brown replaces Skip Peete, who was not retained after six seasons in Dallas. Peete now is the Bears running backs coach.
Brown played eight seasons in the NFL after being an eighth-round pick of the Houston Oilers in 1991. He rushed for 4,300 yards and 21 touchdowns on 1,023 carries. He started coaching immediately after his playing career ended, starting at Williamsport (Pa.) Area High School in 2000. His first college job was at Lycoming College. He also coached at Susquehanna University and Rutgers before joining the Browns.