MOBILE, Ala. – It's a question that should sound familiar by now, given the Cowboys' offensive struggles last season.
Were the Cowboys' problems on offense simply a result of a missing quarterback – Tony Romo – or were they indicative of deeper problems? It's not an unreasonable question, given the Cowboys' ineptitude down the stretch of the season.
"We've really got to get ourselves back to where we really started and where we were in training camp and early in the year and get back to that," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on Thursday after Senior Bowl practice.
It was undoubtedly a frustrating year for Linehan. He presided over the No. 7 offense in the NFL in his first season in Dallas, but he saw that status slip down to No. 22 without Romo in the lineup. Despite trying multiple replacements at quarterback, the Cowboys lost the explosive element of their offense – not to mention the efficiency of the year before.
"To me it was our first down success that was a big part of our success offensively two seasons ago," Linehan said. "I can't tell you the exact numbers, but it was one of the best years I've been a part of as far as on first down – and a lot of it was in the run game."
That's undeniable, given that DeMarco Murray barreled his way to 1,845 rushing yards and an NFL Offensive Player of the Year award in 2014. But it's hard to knock the ground game too much in Romo's absence, considering Darren McFadden averaged 87.3 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry during his 11 outings as the starting running back.
It instead turns back toward inefficiency and ineptitude from the quarterback position during Romo's absence – which obviously explains the attention being paid toward Carson Wentz and other quarterbacks participating at this year's Senior Bowl.
Just how much the NFL draft is factoring into this week's practices wasn't something Linehan was ready to discuss in late January.
"Well, our focus isn't on what our needs are. We are evaluating last year, and obviously it's unfortunate Tony caught the injury bug – but we're anticipating him back, full recovery and ready to go," Linehan said. "I was really excited about the way Kellen was able to come in and play in his last couple of games. We're excited about the guys we've got, but we're always going to be looking at every position -- including quarterbacks."
At the same time, Linehan said the coaching staff will use the offseason to evaluate the offense and make improvement, though he doesn't expect "major" changes. For the most part, it begins with the people on hand.
"There's a lot of things we've got to do better, and I think we're going to start by everybody looking in the mirror and saying 'This is what we've got to do individually and collectively as a group and as a team,'" he said.