IRVING, Texas -- Running back Felix Jones has taken more criticism from the media this training camp than in his entire NFL career.
Durability is a concern for the backup running back, who enters the final year of his contract.
Jones, who has shaved down his James Harden-like facial hair to go with a more conservative look, has run pretty well during the preseason. He's rushed 11 times for 48 yards and has picked up three catches for 26 yards. Jones runs with a burst at times, but it doesn't appear as if he makes defenders miss as much as he used to.
Injuries to his toe, knee, ankle, hamstring and shoulder have cost Jones 16 regular-season games out of 64 since the Cowboys drafted him in the first round of the 2008 draft. The 2010 season is the only year he didn't miss any games. Those injuries might have taken a toll on him.
Jones was playful with a reporter when asked about his beard following Monday's practice. When asked if he'll play 16 games this season, Jones said, "We'll see."
The Cowboys are depending on Jones more this year by adding kickoff returns to his plate. Jones hasn't returned kicks full time since his rookie season. But the Cowboys want more playmakers in different positions on the field, and Jones fits right in.
It's easy to compare Jones negatively to the 2008 draft class that featured Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice. Jones is a talented player but hasn't been healthy enough to show it on the field.
Now Jones enters the final year of his contract trying to prove himself worthy of a lucrative new deal, whether it's with the Cowboys or another team.
Producing on kickoffs might help Jones prove how valuable he is.
In 2008, he averaged a career-high 27.1 yards a return, including a 98-yard touchdown.
But his overall workload decreased over the years. While he came off a career-high 800 rushing yards in 2010 as he played in 16 games, he rushed for just 575 yards last season.
Jones became the starting running back last season, but once again he suffered an injury, opening the way for DeMarco Murray to take over the starting gig.
Jones is the primary backup to Murray, which Jones has said in the past he's fine with. What he needs to do now is get close to 600 rushing yards and become a force on third down, whether it's blocking or fielding the ball out of the backfield.