Especially when a team with high expectations is 2-3, and especially when that 2-3 team enters its bye week, changes are anticipated. They usually don’t come in “official’’ form, in the sense that white smoke rises above The Vatican.
But the Dallas Cowboys are in the midst of change, some of them in official form, some more subtle.
Texas A&M product Christine Michael getting a shot at starting this Sunday against the Giants in New York Giants qualifes as “subtle’’ … at least until he actually gets a carry and successfully uses his bowling-ball style to help fix the Dallas run game.
I think he’s where he needs to be, and we want to take the reins off him and let him rock,’’ position coach Gary Brown says. "We’re looking forward to seeing him play.”
Head coach Jason Garrett was actually on-record late last week pronouncing Joe Randle as the continuing starter. But sources tell CowboysHQ.com that practice snaps last Wednesday and Thursday before the bye were distributed in a way that suggests Michael is actually getting the first crack with the first team.
And I’m willing to bet we end up reporting the same thing regarding this week’s Wednesday and Thursday.
There are other alterations afoot. The most important might be “a foot,’’ as Dez Bryant tells me “the plan’’ would have him healthy enough to play in New York. (For the moment, he spent Friday playing in Lufkin.) The QB switch from a “pissed’’ Brandon Weeden to Matt Cassell did come with the white smoke, as did the promotion of prized LSU rookie La’el Collins to starting left guard ahead of Ron Leary. Toss in the added faith Dallas has in first-round rookie Byron Jones to do more things at safety, and factor in the probable addition of rookie Randy Gregory (ankle) to the defensive triangle of Sean Lee, Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain, and C-Mike might find himself a featured part of a fresh-looking Dallas attack.
“I think he brings a different style,’’ Brown says in comparing Michael to so-far starter Joe Randle and veteran backup Darren McFadden. "He’s more of a scatback, twitchy guy with power. So I think he brings a little different style to the table. I think he probably has a little bit more power. We’ve got to take advantage of that.”
I’ll agree with the power and the twitch. I’m not sure I get the “scatback’’ part. But I fully agree with something else Brown says: “I think he’s earned it. He’s worked hard, he’s been everything we’ve expected off the field, and he’s a student of the game.’'
The 5-10, 221-pound Michael is a former second-round pick who can be a downhill runner. … if Dallas’ vaunted line opens up holes, which it hopes Collins can help do. Maybe it’s taken C-Mike some time to learn the Valley Ranch ropes; he really was out in the street the other day, as if he was looking for a ride, or had dropped his wallet, or something. (I’ll make sure to ask when the players reconvene this week.)
But now? He’s got a grasp of what Dallas wants, so much so that newcomer rookie Rod Smith (picked up off waivers from Seattle, C-Mike’s former home) says Christine is tutoring him on the playbook. He’s got the hit-the-hole ability that Randle (74 carries for 289 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry) hasn’t always shown. He hopefully has balance that Darren McFadden (129 yards 37 carries, 3.5 yards per carry) hasn’t shown.
And most of all, he’s a change when Dallas could use one —.or five — changes.
The original idea of trading for Christine Michael stemmed from a concern that Randle might have a behavioral problem or that McFadden might have an injury problem. Happily, those two fears have not been realized. (Though Lance Dunbar being out for the year is problematic enough.) That’s why The Cult of Christine has largely gone unsatisfied to this point.
But the Cowboys rank 19th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 106.2 yards per. They don’t need to repeat 2015, when the departed DeMarco Murray was central to the Cowboys ranking second in the league at 147.1 yards per game.
But they need to find themselves. … and move to looking lost out in the street to looking like themselves up in New York.