IRVING, Texas – In keeping with the early theme of the 2015 season, the running back position stands to look drastically different than it did just a month ago.
Lance Dunbar's torn ACL has sent him to the injured reserve, and the Cowboys used the bye week to bolster their numbers by signing rookie Rod Smith after he was released by Seattle.
All of a sudden Christine Michael, acquired in a trade with the Seahawks a mere six weeks ago, looks like a veteran member of the group.
To hear it from the Cowboys coaching staff, Michael may begin seeing a veteran's snap count, as well.
"I think we're going to give him an opportunity to go out and do some more snaps. I think he's earned it," said running backs coach Gary Brown on Thursday. "He's worked hard, he's been everything we've expected off the field, and he's a student of the game. We're looking forward to seeing him play."
Michael has been the topic of much speculation during his time with the team – especially as the Cowboys' running game has struggled during the current three-game losing streak. But that talk hasn't amounted much during his first five games in Dallas.
The former second-round draft pick was inactive for the first three games of the season. He functioned as the short-yardage back in Week 4 and Week 5, carrying once for a one-yard loss against New Orleans and once again for a six-yard gain against New England.
"Ever since he's gotten here we've tried to move him up," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on Monday. "We gave him some short yardage opportunities and we've kind of tried to get him acclimated to what we're doing."
Asked about Michael's acclimation to the offense over the past month, Brown wasn't shy with an assessment of what he thinks the third-year veteran is capable of.
"He can do more things. I think the thing is that he had to learn and he had to feel comfortable with it," he said. "I think he's where he needs to be, and we want to take the reins off him and let him rock."
It's hard to say what that means until the Cowboys return from the bye week, but their running game could use some help. Dallas is ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 106 yards per game. Leading rusher Joseph Randle is averaging 3.9 yards per carry, and Darren McFadden is sitting at just 3.5 yards per carry.
A lot of that has to do with the Cowboys' passing attack, to be sure. The struggles to throw the ball without Tony Romo in the lineup have led to a lot of stacked fronts, as opponents have used eight and nine-man fronts to subdue the ground game.
As Garrett has pointed out, the Cowboys faced those types of front in the past and fought through them. Given the power that Michael brings to the table, Brown said he could only help.
"I think it will – not to say that the other guys don't have power, but I think he probably has a little bit more power," he said. "We've got to take advantage of that.
"Obviously with an eight-man front, it's going to be a little tighter, but we have to make sure we're taking advantage of the holes that are there, because the O-Line is cracking the holes open, and we've got to get in and get out of them quickly."