IRVING, Texas -- The flashes of brilliance from the rookie running back created buzz about whether he could follow the Hall of Fame footsteps of Cowboys legends Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith.
A few years later, Julius Jones left Dallas as JAG, to borrow a Bill Parcells term, far from HOF.
Is DeMarco Murray running down the same road? The similarities certainly are striking.
Jones rushed for 722 yards and seven touchdowns in the final six games of his rookie season, including performances of 198, 150 and 149 yards. That, however, was the high point of his career.
In his second season, Jones only had one 100-yard game. He was serviceable, not spectacular, the next two years and was overshadowed by Marion Barber by the final season of his rookie contract.
Jones rushed for a total of 3,484 yards and 18 touchdowns during his four-year Dallas tenure, falling far short of the elite expectations his rookie stardom set.
Those numbers might compare favorably to Murray’s when his rookie deal expires next season. What a disappointment that would be for a back who burst onto the scene with a franchise-record 253 yards in his first game as an NFL feature back. He followed that up with a pair of 130-plus yard performances over the next few weeks, giving him a four-game total of 601 yards, by far the most in franchise history over a 16-quarter span.
Murray, who has rushed for 1,671 yards and six touchdowns in 25 career games, has a grand total of one 100-yard outing in 16 games since then. He’s been held under 50 yards seven times during that span.
The Cowboys’ running game woes certainly don’t all fall at Murray’s feet. The poor performance by the offensive line -- when the Cowboys set franchise records for rushing futility, ranking second to last in the NFL -- was the primary problem last season.
That wasn’t necessarily the case in Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, when Murray gained only 25 yards on 12 carries and made it clear after the game that he wasn’t pleased to be used so sparingly. Quarterback Tony Romo, who can check out of running plays at the line of scrimmage, stated his opinion that the Cowboys need to run the ball more effectively to run it more often.
There are mutters about Murray leaving yards on the field. He’s a tough runner, but he hasn’t displayed great vision or the ability to make tacklers miss for most of his career.
Murray had his best success running behind fullback Tony Fiammetta as a rookie, rushing for 742 yards and both of his touchdowns on 130 carries (5.7 a pop) behind his lead blocker, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Is Murray suited to be primarily used in single-back sets? He better be, because the Cowboys don’t have a fullback on the roster or a tight end fit to be used in that role.
Maybe the St. Louis Rams coming to town this weekend will help Murray regain his rookie form. He did have his record-breaking day against the Rams, although the St. Louis defense has undergone a personnel and coaching overhaul since then. Maybe the focus of the running game’s lack of success being shifted to him will light a fire under Murray.
Or maybe Murray is just another Julius Jones.