Further review: Cowboys RBs

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
9:22
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While some may focus on issues at safety, field goal kicker and how first-round pick Tyron Smith will do at right tackle in 2011, the Cowboys' running back position also merits a closer look after the draft.

Cowboys officials were determined to find another running back in this draft despite already having Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

There was a deep class at the position, and the Cowboys took advantage by drafting Oklahoma's Demarco Murray in the third round.

But what does it mean at Valley Ranch?

It could mean the end for Barber, who has started since 2008 but appears to have worn down physically. Barber is due $500,000 in June, but that's on hold because of the lockout.

Jones started the last few weeks of the season when Barber was healthy and -- while he did have his moments -- it's easy to second guess the Cowboys' decision to draft Jones in the first round in 2008 over a host of other backs, including Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson.

Choice, who has shown flashes he can play, was drafted the same year as Jones, but he's had limited opportunities as the third back. The Cowboys would like him to play special teams, which Choice has struggled with doing.

The Cowboys would like to have their starting back get about 15-20 carries, if possible.

Murray was the featured back at Oklahoma, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in two of the last three seasons. He's had injury issues, but Murray said NFL teams didn't ask him about it and the Cowboys don't seem concerned.

"He’s a complete back," Jason Garrett said. "He’s a guy who is big and sturdy. If you get a chance to be around him, you see how long he is and how big his hands are. He is a physical-looking halfback and a guy, again, who has versatility both as a runner, as a receiver and as a third-down blocker. We are going to create competition on our football team and bring him in there and see where he stacks up against the other guys."

If Barber is sent packing, Murray will compete with Choice for playing time. Murray returned kicks at OU, and the team said it has tape of him catching punts. The team tried to get Jones to catch punts his rookie season, and he couldn't do it on a consistent basis.

Murray might be the No. 2 back that the Cowboys are looking for to replace Jones, whose contract ends in 2012. This doesn't mean the Cowboys won't extend Jones, but this is an important year in his development. If Barber is gone, then Jones will become the starter. While durability was a question for Jones during his first two seasons, it didn't appear that way in 2010.

Jones did have some problems in the Colts game, where he was dehydrated and needed to get an IV at halftime. Jones came in heavier than he did his rookie year, looking to become more physical, but he lost the weight as the season wore on.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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