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Dallas Cowboys coaches — those who remain, anyway — are set to return from vacation next week, and at some point they will head to Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl.

At the moment, the Cowboys need a tight ends coach, a linebackers coach, a secondary coach, a special-teams coordinator, a wide receivers coach and a quarterbacks coach. The front office and head coach Jason Garrett might already know who will fill some of those roles and just aren’t saying.

So let’s lay out what has happened to the staff since the season ended, and what might happen next:


Special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia — Despite being under contract and putting together a good unit the past few seasons, he was allowed to leave by the front office and join Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders. Bisaccia is respected across the league and desires to be a head coach one day. Getting back together with Gruden could help him.

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus — He is expected to be Josh McDaniels’ defensive coordinator wherever the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator lands a head-coaching job (Indianapolis Colts, cough, cough). He was elevated to passing-game coordinator in 2017 and was a key part of the coverage schemes the Cowboys used. He devised their dime package a couple of years ago. He bet on himself last year, choosing not to sign an extension with the Cowboys in hopes of becoming a coordinator in 2018.

Wide receivers coach Derek Dooley — He would have been back with the Cowboys in 2018 but was able to land the offensive coordinator job at Missouri. This move allows him the chance to get back on track to being a head coach one day.

Offensive line coach Frank Pollack — With Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on his unit, his job did not appear to be on the line after the 2017 season ended. But a change was made, anyway, even though he remained under contract. He ended up as the line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson — The longest-tenured assistant under Garrett (2007-17), he was Dak Prescott’s first backer on the staff prior to the 2016 draft. His contract expired, and he was told he would not return.

Secondary coach Joe Baker — He was told his contract would not be renewed. While he incorporated almost an entirely new secondary in 2017, the fact that the players the Cowboys let walk in free agency — such as Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne — played better elsewhere did not help his cause.

Tight ends coach Steve Loney — He chose to retire after one season in his position, ending a coaching career that began in 1974.


Offensive line coach Paul Alexander — He spent 23 years as the Bengals’ line coach and was able to put together some solid running game and pass protection schemes. He inherits what will be the best group he has coached and will be in charge of improving the pass protection while keeping the run game top notch. Over the years, he has changed his blocking scheme depending on the talent he has had.

Running backs coach Gary Brown — Sources say he is expected to return for his sixth season. He had interest from the Raiders and Houston Texans. He has had success with DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and Ezekiel Elliott since joining the Cowboys. He has also developed Keith Smith from a linebacker to a fullback and Rod Smith as an effective third-down back.

Sanjay Lal — A source said Lal will be the receivers coach after interviewing for the position last week. Miles Austin also interviewed for the spot and could be considered for another role on the staff, but Lal’s experience gave him the edge. The key question for the Cowboys and whoever coaches the receivers will be Dez Bryant’s future with the team.


Kellen Moore — After spending most of last season on the practice squad, he has interviewed for the quarterbacks coach job, and his close ties to Scott Linehan help his case. He has always been viewed as a coach-in-waiting. Considering that Linehan effectively runs the quarterback room as coordinator, it will allow Moore a chance to grow as a coach.

Keith O’Quinn — He has served as Bisaccia’s assistant since 2014. He has experience in coaching on both sides of the ball and comes from a scouting background. Considering how a special-teams unit is put together, the coach has to have an understanding of every level. The special-teams coordinator also has to work closely with Garrett. O’Quinn’s experience on the staff helps.

John Pagano — He is scheduled to meet with the club over the next few days. He ended last season as Oakland’s defensive coordinator, taking over for Ken Norton Jr. He has been an NFL assistant since 1996 and has extensive work as a linebackers coach, which is a sign the Cowboys are preparing for life without Eberflus. Pagano has experience in 4-3 and 3-4 systems and could be a solid resource for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Ray Horton — He won a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys in 1992 as a defensive back and was considered for Garrett’s staff back in 2011. He was out of football last season after serving as Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator in 2016. While the Cowboys would like Greg Jackson to return to help the secondary, Horton has a lot of experience.

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all of his years as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones had not made a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals until last September when the team acquired cornerback Bene Benwikere.

In effect, the Cowboys have made their second trade with the Bengals, swapping offensive line coaches.

According to a source, the Cowboys have hired Paul Alexander, who had been with the Bengals for 23 years, to replace Frank Pollack, who took Alexander’s job with the Bengals.

Alexander has a multi-faceted background as the Bengals’ line coach since 1995. While Pollack came from the Bill Callahan school of zone blocking, Alexander uses a combination of zone, power and trap schemes.

Since 2014, the Cowboys have not had a running game rank outside the top 10. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing in 2014. Darren McFadden finished fourth in 2015 even though he did not become the lead back until the sixth game of the season. Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing in 2016.

Elliott nearly became the first Cowboys runner to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons top open a career since Tony Dorsett in 1977-78, finishing 17 yards short despite playing in just 10 games because of a suspension.

The strength of the Cowboys’ roster is their offensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Smith has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the last five years. Frederick and Martin have been named the last four seasons.

La’el Collins moved from left guard to right tackle in 2017 and improved as the year went on. The two questions the Cowboys have are at left guard, where 13-game starter Jonathan Cooper is set to become a free agent, and at backup offensive tackle, where things fell apart in Smith’s absence from three-plus games due to injury.

The Bengals did not have success in 2017, finishing ranked last in yards offensively and 31st in rushing. Andy Dalton was sacked 39 times after getting sacked 41 times in 2016.

But Alexander will undoubtedly have the most talented group of linemen he has had in his career in Dallas. He oversaw the development of Willie Anderson, a first-round pick in 1997, who became a five-time Pro Bowler. He also saw Andrew Whitworth become a Pro Bowl left tackle. Kevin Zeitler left the Bengals after the 2016 season for the richest free-agent deal ever given to a guard. Martin should top that figure this offseason or next.

The Cowboys felt they needed to move on from Pollack even though the rushing numbers in the six games without Elliott were still good enough to rank in the top 10. Pass protection was an issue. Dak Prescott was sacked 32 times, including 22 times in the final eight games of the season. The passing game took a major hit with Prescott not throwing for at least 200 yards in eight games.

Even with Smith on the field, there was a belief among some in the building that the pass protection was the biggest reason for the slide of the pass-game numbers, especially in the second half.

The Cowboys don’t need to overhaul their running game. However, they can add to the scheme with the addition of Alexander. Where Alexander needs to have the biggest impact is protecting Prescott.

The Cowboys believe if they can do that, they won’t be far off from playing in games like this weekend’s.

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Gary Brown is expected to return as Dallas Cowboys running backs coach, according to sources.

Brown also had interest from the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans, but opted to remain with the Cowboys, where he has been since 2013.

He has overseen the development of DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing in 2014 and 2016. Brown helped Murray, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and ’14, and Elliott, who was named a first-team All Pro in 2016, become smarter running backs and identify defensive fronts to improve their ability to hit the hole in the zone running scheme.

But Brown’s work extends beyond those two. In 2015, Darren McFadden finished fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,089 yards despite not becoming the lead back until the sixth game of the season. With Elliott suspended for six games in 2017, the Cowboys still managed to run the ball effectively with Alfred Morris and Rod Smith.

Smith’s development as a solid third-down back, as well as Keith Smith’s seamless transition from linebacker to fullback two years ago also speaks well on Brown’s coaching ability.

Brown is the first coach with an expiring contract to remain with the Cowboys. The Cowboys would also like passing game coordinator and linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and safeties coach Greg Jackson to return. Eberflus could be a defensive coordinator depending on how some head coaching vacancies are filled, but it is also possible he could return to the Cowboys with an expanded role.

There have been six changes on Jason Garrett’s staff so far with special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia (Oakland), offensive line coach Frank Pollack (Cincinnati Bengals), quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley (Missouri offensive coordinator), quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, secondary coach Joe Baker and tight ends coach Steve Loney not returning.

The Cowboys have interviewed long-time Cincinnati offensive line coach Paul Alexander and Indianapolis Colts receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

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Darren McFadden found out he would be inactive for last Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles just about the same time as everybody else, a few hours before kickoff.

“Surprised the hell out of me,” McFadden said. “But that’s what they decided, man. That’s just what it is right now.”

The Cowboys opted to carry two tailbacks, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, against the Eagles because they need extra help on special teams. McFadden’s only contribution on special teams is on the kick return team.

McFadden was inactive for the first eight games of the season, but when Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension started, it was expected he would be part of a running back committee with Morris and Smith. He carried one time for minus-2 yards in the loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

McFadden has gone through two straight lost seasons after leading the Cowboys and finishing fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,089 yards in 2015. He missed the first 13 games last season because of a broken elbow suffered in the offseason and he has dressed for one game this season.

The inactivity has him thinking about his future. He is set to be a free agent after the season.

“When the offseason gets here I’ll sit down and think about it, said McFadden, who is in his 10th season. “Try to get away from the game for a little while and just make a decision from there.”

With a short turnaround this week and health issues at linebacker (Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens) there is a possibility McFadden could be inactive Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

“It’s very frustrating,” McFadden said, “but at the end of the day they make their decisions, and I can’t do nothing but roll with them.”

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The Dallas Cowboys know they won’t have Ezekiel Elliott against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.The Cowboys have been preparing for this moment all season. On Aug. 11, the NFL made its initial announcement that Elliott would be suspended for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

A week ago at this time, the Cowboys thought they wouldn’t have Elliott against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Now they know they will not have him against the Falcons. It is possible he could play sooner than six games from now, depending on more legal maneuverings, but that is for another time.

Come Sunday, the Cowboys will rely on Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden to do what Elliott has done essentially by himself this season.

Elliott has 191 carries for 783 yards and seven rushing touchdowns this season. Morris and Smith have combined for 24 carries for 184 yards on the season. Morris played in one snap against the Chiefs and gained 11 yards. Smith did not have a carry.

Ever since it became a possibility the Cowboys would need to rely on a running back or three not named Elliott, the coaches and players have expressed confidence in Morris, Smith and McFadden.

Morris has three 1,000-yard seasons to his credit and two Pro Bowl appearances. McFadden finished as the league’s fourth-leading rusher in 2015 when he ran for 1,089 yards. Smith is the most unknown, but could be the running back that ends up getting the most work in Elliott’s absence.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Thursday not much changes with the Cowboys’ running game plan without Elliott. He can say that because of an offensive line that boasts three All-Pro selections: Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.

Smith, however, has not practiced this week because of a groin injury, and he is iffy at best to play Sunday. Dez Bryant said he expects to play against the Falcons after not practicing the last two days because of ankle and knee injuries, but it might not be his call.

So a Cowboys offense that has been rolling the past five weeks — they have scored at least 28 points in each game — won’t have Elliott, might not have Smith and could have a banged-up Bryant.

Dak Prescott has played better in his second year than he did in his first, but he has not played a full game without Elliott in his career. That will be different no matter what the coaches say.

Without Elliott, defenses will not have to use an extra defender to slow the run, unless the Cowboys can prove their running game can have the same impact with Morris, Smith and McFadden. Without Elliott, Prescott will see tighter windows in which to throw. Without Elliott, the receivers will see extra attention.

Through it all, the Cowboys believe they will be able to move the ball. Most of McFadden’s 1,089 yards came without Tony Romo at quarterback in 2015. He had Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore at quarterback and still piled up 100-yard games.

It is possible for the Cowboys to still find success, but they will find their margin for error a little slimmer without Elliott going forward.

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No teammates are affected more by Ezekiel Elliott’s status than Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden.

Morris was set to be the Dallas Cowboys’ starting running back in Elliott’s absence, and McFadden was set to be active for the first time this season against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

With Elliott now eligible to play thanks to a temporary administrative stay from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Morris and McFadden should go back to their normal roles.

How do they stay off the emotional roller coaster?

“Don’t get on it,” said Morris, who has not had more than four carries in a game this season. “Easy enough.”

McFadden said he resisted getting “too hyped” for the game because he knew Elliott’s late reinstatement was possible.

“I take my feelings out of it,” McFadden said. “You just have to approach the day every day. I approach it the same way whether I’m playing or not playing. I’m just going to continue to do that.”

Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys had two good practices without Elliott on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Feel very confident in the other running backs that we have on our team,” Garrett said. “Again, two good practices, guys that have been experienced and productive players in this league, so we feel good about what their roles are, but certainly [Elliott] helps us. He’s been very productive for us from the first game he’s played. He’s been playing awfully well here of late and excited to have him back.”

Morris and McFadden were in meetings when Elliott showed up.

“We’re happy to have Zeke back out there, glad he’s playing,” McFadden said. “Just taking it and rolling with it.”

Morris said it “is back to business as normal,” but admits it is difficult seeing a teammate deal with off-field issues.

“I don’t blame him if you feel like you’re in the right,” Morris said of Elliott fighting his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. “I don’t know; it’s so weird. But it’s like nobody wants to admit defeat. He’s going to fight for his name. The NFL is going to fight for what they do … so it’s almost like a lose-lose. But they need to get to a conclusion here because that’s annoying for that kid.”

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The Dallas Cowboys will have to learn what life is like without running back Ezekiel Elliott.

U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Failla declined Elliott’s request for a preliminary injunction on Monday that would have prevented the NFL’s six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy, which means he will be placed on the suspended list. Pending the results of an appeal, Elliott will not be able to return until Dec. 17 against the Oakland Raiders.

A Cowboys’ season that started to look and feel a lot like 2016 with the way Elliott had run the ball the past three games, may now become unpredictable.

The Cowboys have expressed faith in Elliott’s replacements: Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith. But none can do what Elliott can. The Cowboys hope three of them can combine to replace Elliott’s production.

While the news is disappointing, it’s not as if the Cowboys were unprepared for the possibility.

“The way we’ve constructed our roster has taken his situation into account. We have some veteran running backs,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have some depth at that position. It’s not like we’re just living this day and we don’t think about the future at all. You have to do that. I think you build your team that way at all positions. If this guy is not able to play, who’s your backup? Who can go in? We try to do that with our offensive line, receivers, running backs, all throughout our defense. That’s the way you construct your team, and you’re always thinking about those scenarios. We’ll take it one day at a time and we’ll see what his situation is. Regardless, we’re going to go forward and try to play our best football.”

Morris has three 1,000-yard seasons to his credit but his last came in 2014. McFadden was fourth in the NFL in rushing in 2015 with the Cowboys, but he has been inactive for every game this season. Smith has shown some promise but has 74 yards rushing in his career.

If the Cowboys are to continue to succeed with the running game without Elliott, then it will be because of their offensive line.

Elliott had a difficult start to the season, although it wasn’t just him. The entire ground game was out of whack. Where there were creases a year ago, the Cowboys found defenders. Where there were big plays a year ago, the Cowboys found negative runs.

But in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 8, it all changed. Elliott ran 13 times for 85 yards in the fourth quarter. Coming off the bye week, he ran 26 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers. He added two more touchdowns against the Redskins on Sunday despite Washington using eight- and nine-man fronts.

“We’re executing better,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. “That’s really all that there is to it. We’re sticking on blocks and Zeke is running extremely hard.”

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In the back of their minds the Dallas Cowboys had to know this was coming with Ezekiel Elliott.

With the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday vacating the injunction that had allowed the Dallas Cowboys running back to play, Elliott is facing the six-game suspension that was handed down by the NFL in August for violating the personal conduct policy. And the Cowboys are facing life as a sub-.500 team trying to win games without their top offensive threat until the Nov. 30 meeting against the Washington Redskins.

Replacing Elliott will not be easy.

In last Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, he appeared to find his stride with 13 carries for 85 yards in the fourth quarter. He had 31 yards on 16 carries in the first three quarters, but Elliott — and maybe more importantly the coaches — found a number of runs that equaled success.

In the first four games and three quarters of the fifth game, the Cowboys’ running game was running into a wall. Their hope was the defenses would eventually wear down, but it did not happen enough.

Without Elliott, the Cowboys can’t rely on Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden to wear down a defense in the same manner.

Singularly, they don’t have Elliott’s combination of speed, power, elusiveness and strength. Collectively, they might.

The Cowboys will have to go from a one-man band in the running game — Elliott has 105 of the 115 carries by Dallas running backs so far — to a committee.

Morris has eight carries for 87 yards but 70 came on one run against the Los Angeles Rams. He has three 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, but those were back in 2012-14 with the Washington Redskins. Since signing with the Cowboys as a free agent last year, he has had more than seven carries in a game just once. He is not much of a threat in the passing game.

McFadden has been inactive for the first five games, which has been a surprise because he was groomed in the summer to be Elliott’s replacement if the suspension had taken effect immediately. He was limited to three games a year ago because of a broken elbow, but in 2015 he had five 100-yard games and two games with more than 90 yards after becoming the Cowboys’ lead back six games into the season. He is most equipped, largely because of his experience, to handle multiple roles.

Smith is the wild card. He might be best suited to handle the full-time job but he has just four carries for 13 yards in his career. He has caught three passes for 28 yards. A year ago at this time, he was a fullback for the Cowboys.

Smith, who was a teammate of Elliott’s at Ohio State, runs with power, has decent speed and can catch the ball effectively. But he has never done it before.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will have to do something he hasn’t done since coming to Dallas in 2014: mix different running backs throughout a game.

In 2014, DeMarco Murray carried 392 times to lead the NFL with 1,845 yards. Backup running back Joseph Randle’s 51 carries were the next highest total. In 2015, McFadden finished fourth in the NFL with 1,089 yards on 239 carries. Randle had 76 carries, which were second-most, but he did not have a carry after the sixth game. Last year, Elliott had 322 carries on his way to leading the league with 1,631 yards. Morris’ 69 carries were second most by a runner.

The Cowboys’ running game has not looked like what anybody expected coming into the season. Elliott has 393 yards on 105 carries, good for 3.7 yards a carry.

As they go forward likely without Elliott, the running game still won’t look like what anybody expected entering the season — but for entirely different reasons.

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TEMPE, Ariz. — When the Arizona Cardinals watched the tape of the Denver Broncos’ win over the Dallas Cowboys from last Sunday, they saw a blueprint of how to slow running back Ezekiel Elliott nearly to a grinding halt.

They also saw how the second-year star reacts when that happens.

But the Cardinals are preparing for an Elliott they believe will be playing with a chip on his shoulder in front of a national TV audience Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“He’ll be ready to roll,” safety Tyrann Mathieus aid. “We just got to bring our big-boy pads. Everybody has to tackle.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said two main reasons the Broncos had success against the Cowboys stood out in the film study: Denver got and held on to the lead, forcing the Cowboys to pass and essentially rendering Elliott useless; and Broncos linebacker Von Miller.

“If I could have Von Miller, I’d be happy,” Arians said. “He’s special. We’ve got a pretty good one, too, [in outside linebacker Chandler Jones], so, yeah. It’s a copycat league, but you can’t change what you do.

“They have some unique stuff that they run that you have to be very aware for. Hopefully, our matchups are pretty solid.”

For a little while during the past week it wasn’t certain if Elliott would play Monday night. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Friday to not hear arguments on the stay that’s keeping Elliott on the field for at least the next two weeks until Oct. 2. Even if the courts hadn’t made that announcement Friday, Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher wasn’t planning on paying much attention to the legal proceedings.

All week, as the status of Elliott for Monday night’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium faced some uncertainty, the Cardinals’ message was the same: It didn’t matter if Elliott played or not because the Cowboys wouldn’t change how they run the ball if Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris or Rod Smith was starting instead of Elliott.

Whether that was just coachspeak is up for debate, but it didn’t matter as of Friday afternoon.

Elliott will be on the field.

That means the Cardinals will be preparing for last year’s rushing champ, who, despite showing a lack of effort during last week’s loss to the Broncos, is still one of the best running backs in the NFL.

“He’s tough to stop anyways, but if and what he’s motivated by, I have no idea,” Arians said. “But he’s a handful.”

When the potential chip on his shoulder is taken out of the equation, the Cardinals see Elliott for what he is: A quick, powerful runner.

“I think he is a pads-down runner,” Bettcher said. “Whatever’s been said about the performance last week I watched on tape, I see a guy that carries the ball 20 times a game and averaged over 100 yards rushing a game [last season] and has a lot of talent who can burst on the second level, who can make guys on the second level miss.

“You got to wrap, you got to run and we got to rally when we tackle the guy.”

Elliott has rushed for 112 yards on 33 carries this year but has been held without a touchdown.

He set career lows in 10 different rushing categories last weekend, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

When defensive tackle Frostee Rucker watched Elliott on tape, he saw similarities to one of his teammates, running back Kerwynn Williams.

“They’re hard runners, but they’re small and you can’t really see them,” Rucker said. “When you got a big O-line like [Elliott] does, he’s really explosive, and he has all the traits to be a great back for many years to come.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about the kid. I don’t really know him. I know from what you see on film, he has a lot of speed, he does turn the corner and hit the edge on you, he does run it between the tackles, which a lot of guys try to bounce it out, but he’s trying to keep it in there, and it fits what they do well.”