IRVING, Texas -- It's not yet official, but with running back DeMarco Murray spending Wednesday afternoon sitting down signing footballs and jerseys in a racquetball court turned autograph storage unit, Felix Jones was preparing to return to the starting lineup.
Murray, who missed Wednesday's practice at Valley Ranch, will sit out Sunday against the Panthers and Jones is set to take over the starting duties.
Coach Jason Garrett rarely announces who will start and wouldn't even say if Lance Dunbar will take over for Jones as the deep man on kick returns. But it's clear Jones will make his 17th start of his career because of the sprained foot Murray suffered in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
"I’m excited to be back playing," Jones said after practice. "I’m just happy to be out here with my teammates. Just go out there and prepare and get ready for the Carolina Panthers, keep getting better, keep working on the things that makes us go out there and win these ballgames and continue to fight."
It's been a difficult 2012 for Jones. He missed the entire offseason workouts because of shoulder surgery and failed a conditioning test to start training camp. When he finally got going in camp and in preseason games he looked slow and didn't have his usual burst.
Jones' woes continued in Week 2 of the regular season when he fumbled a kickoff, leading to a score for the Seattle Seahawks. It put the Cowboys in a 10-0 hole that they never recovered from in a 27-7 loss. Coach Jason Garrett defended Jones, saying he was improving, and owner/general manager Jerry Jones added that he felt the running back still had a burst and speed.
Yet, Jones had just three carries for 13 yards going into the Ravens game last week.
When Murray went down with his injury, Jones stepped in and finished with 18 carries for 92 yards and one touchdown.
"You just got to be patient," he said. "For me, it’s just being patient. I know my opportunities are going to come. I just had to wait for it, and when it came just maximize it."
Garrett said weight wasn't an issue for Jones, but getting in playing shape was. It appeared a 13-yard run against Chicago in Week 4 might have sparked something, because he showed a burst and quickness.
In the past, Garrett hasn't given Jones a heavy workload. In five NFL seasons, Jones has just two games with 20 or more carries, while Murray has done it six times in two NFL seasons.
Garrett said Wednesday he's got no problems giving Jones a heavy workload.
In the past it seemed the Cowboys were unsure of what to do with Jones. Is he a third-down back? Kick returner? Starting running back?
But for now Jones' role is more defined as the starter.
"It just gives you some confidence," he said. "It makes you know that you’re going to go out there and provide help for your team, so you got to be ready. I was ready when I was coming in and even more ready right now. It gives you a boost of confidence to go out there and play."