IRVING, Texas (AP) Christine Michael is getting work with the first team out of the Dallas backfield, an indication the third-year running back could be close to his debut with the Cowboys.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Thursday that Michael was taking snaps with the regulars after working mostly on the scout team since coming over in a trade with Seattle a little more than three weeks ago. Linehan didn't say whether Michael would be active for the Cowboys (2-1) on Sunday night at New Orleans (0-3).
''He's making a lot of progress,'' Linehan said. ''We're excited to see in the future here, I don't know how near that is. We make those decisions in the upcoming days of when he can get his first action.''
Joseph Randle has started all three games after NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray signed with Philadelphia in free agency.
Randle had 85 yards on his first three carries, but just 2 on his final 11 runs last weekend against Atlanta. Dallas couldn't hold a two-touchdown lead in a 39-28 loss.
The Cowboys boosted their per carry average from 3.4 yards to 4.1 with decent numbers against the Falcons, but had minus-4 yards rushing in the second half. Darren McFadden has been the second option behind Randle, and hasn't had more than 10 carries in a game
Michael was a second-round pick by the Seahawks in 2012, but never came close to supplanting Marshawn Lynch. The Cowboys gave up a conditional late-round pick for the former Texas A&M player.
''Physically I feel like I've been ready,'' said Michael, who had 254 yards without a touchdown in limited action over two seasons in Seattle. ''I had to get my plays down, which have been coming along pretty well. But for the most part, just looking to go out there and have fun.''
It's unusual for teams to carry four running backs on game day, but the Cowboys have a quirk in that No. 3 back Lance Dunbar has been used much more as a receiver so far. He has just two carries, and is the NFL leader among running backs with 21 catches for 215 yards receiving.
With receiver Dez Bryant sidelined with a broken right foot, Dunbar leads the team in yardage. And his presence could allow the Cowboys to carry one fewer receiver against the Saints.
''That is certainly one way of looking at it,'' Linehan said. ''Lance does give us versatility at running back and certain aspects of our passing game. Obviously, just him being on the field playing some positions that might be receiver-oriented. But Lance's first job is still to be ready to be the running back.''
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Michael gives the Cowboys a stockier, more physical runner compared to Randle, McFadden and Dunbar. Dallas has struggled in some short-yardage situations this season and is ranked 16th in rushing after finishing second last year when Murray had a franchise-record 1,845 yards.
''I think we did a good job in the first half last week running the football,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''We just have to be more consistent. It's not easy. It wasn't easy last year when we were productive running the football.''
NOTES: CB Brandon Carr returned to practice after missing Wednesday for an unspecified reason that wasn't injury-related. ... DE Jeremy Mincey (concussion) was a full participant in practice for the first time this week. He missed the Atlanta game.
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