Dallas Cowboys: Julius Jones

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
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Part 1 of the Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready for your perusal.

In it we discuss the futures of Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray, if the running game will change with Scott Linehan and what the Cowboys might do at the safety spot.

Away we go:

 

What to make of DeMarco Murray?

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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IRVING, Texas -- With the way the NFL has morphed into a passing league, finding the so-called "franchise" running back is less important.

Murray
Unless it is Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy, are there any other "franchise" running backs? There are solid runners. There are teams that win with OK runners.

Cleveland traded its 2012 first-round pick, No. 3 selection Trent Richardson, to Indianapolis during the regular season. The Colts gave up a lot to get Richardson, but he did not put up big numbers -- 458 yards, three touchdowns. A runner wasn't taken in the first round of the 2013 draft.

The Cowboys don't have to worry about DeMarco Murray's future until 2015. A third-round pick in 2011, Murray is coming off his best season. He finished 10th in the NFL with 1,124 yards. Of the backs with 200 carries in 2013, Murray had the highest yard-per-carry average (5.2).

After getting over a knee injury that cost him two games, Murray became a difference maker for the Cowboys down the stretch. He upset the coaches some by not gaining the extra yards, but they did not use him enough at times.

The Cowboys are 5-6 when he does not play in his first three years. They are 11-0 when he gets at least 20 carries in a game.

"We've always felt good about DeMarco," coach Jason Garrett said. "If you think about his rookie year, when he had opportunities to play, he played well right from the start. He made a big impact on our team. He, like some of the other guys on our team, has dealt with injuries. When he's been out of the lineup over the course of his career, we haven't played as well. When he's been in the lineup and going and playing well and feeling healthy and playing like himself, he has been a really, really effective player for us and helped our team create some of that balance we haven talking about."

Murray's play late in the season started to alter what I thought he could be. I viewed him as just another back, one whom you could find every year in the draft. But he developed a feel for the zone scheme as the year went on, is solid as a pass catcher and can block.

Is he the heir apparent to Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith? No. But he looks as if he could be what Julius Jones never developed into after a strong start to his career.

I'm not sure you commit big bucks to him after next season, but he might have more value to the Cowboys than to another team.

How do you view Murray? Is he an elite back, just below the Peterson/McCoy level? Is in an average back with one good season? Is he someone the Cowboys should lock up long term?

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
4:11
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-23 victory over the Washington Redskins:

What it means for the Cowboys: They’re alive. For the third straight year, the Cowboys will play a Week 17 game for the right to win the NFC East and make the playoffs. Somehow.

Trailing 23-14, the Cowboys rallied on Tony Romo's 10-yard touchdown throw to DeMarco Murray on a fourth-and-goal play with 1:08 to go. The defense was able to come up with a stop, and now the Cowboys welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to AT&T Stadium next week to try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Cowboys are 5-0 in the NFC East for the first time since 1998 and snapped a two-game losing streak.

It was not pretty, but it will do. It also continued to show the team’s ability to bounce back from tough losses. The Cowboys did it earlier in the season against the Redskins after their 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos, and they did it after their 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions when they beat the Minnesota Vikings.

Stock watch: Terrance Williams, rising. On the winning drive, Williams caught two passes for 66 yards, including a 51-yarder that set up Murray’s touchdown catch. Williams finished the day with four catches for 84 yards, which is his second-most in a game this season.

Murray hits mark: It should have happened last week against the Green Bay Packers, but DeMarco Murray went over 1,000 yards on the season with a 43-yard run in the second quarter.

Murray finished with 96 yards on 22 carries and enters the final game of the season with 1,073 yards, which is even more impressive considering he missed two games earlier in the season with a knee injury. He is the first Cowboys running back with 1,000 yards in a season since Julius Jones had 1,084 in 2006. Murray also had his ninth rushing touchdown of the season when he bulled his way in from the 3 on the Cowboys’ first drive. It’s the most rushing touchdowns by a Dallas back since Marion Barber had 10 in 2007.

Oh, by the way, he scored the winning touchdown.

Defense comes up with stops: The offense did the defense no favors by starting out the second half with turnovers on consecutive possessions that led to Washington touchdowns and a 20-14 lead.

The Cowboys were able to overcome a bad penalty by J.J. Wilcox on a third-down play to hold Washington to a field goal, then came up with the only punt of the second half when Orlando Scandrick broke up a Kirk Cousins pass to Pierre Garcon. They also flustered Cousins into poor throws on the final drive.

What’s next: The Cowboys close the regular season at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles. The Cowboys beat Philadelphia 17-3 on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field with what was their best defensive effort of the season. They kept LeSean McCoy in check (55 yards), limited Nick Foles to 80 yards passing before knocking him out of the game and intercepted Matt Barkley three times in the fourth quarter.

Murray deals with forgotten run game

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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The morning after the Cowboys' two-interception fourth quarter and the questions about the disappearance of the running game, DeMarco Murray visited a children's hospital.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Tim SharpHe may not say anything, but you can't blame DeMarco Murray if he's seething over the Cowboys' forgotten running game.
Sporting a beard that Santa would love, the Cowboys' running back visited Scottish Rite Hospital for Children to sign autographs, pose for pictures and visit patients.

The visits gave Murray a pause from the reality of his world: He's frustrated. He's angry. He's everything that would indicate he's mad.

Murray won't admit this and declined to speak to reporters after the Cowboys' 37-36 loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. Despite talking briefly to the media Monday morning, he didn't talk football.

But you could tell in his face that he's not happy. If he played Santa, he would be a grumpy Santa.

"Yeah, yeah. You think about [Sunday] and you are mad about that, and then as soon as you step here, you totally forget about it," he said. "It's the last thing that crosses your mind. Just knowing what these kids are going through on a daily basis, how much fight they have, just makes you look up to them."

Dez Bryant walked to the locker room before the game ended to hide his tears, frustrated at how the Cowboys lost, Murray probably wanted to go somewhere, too. He rushed 18 times for 134 yards. He caught four passes for 19 yards and was targeted seven times. He produced wonderfully for the Cowboys.

It got lost. Or it got forgotten.

The Cowboys ran the ball just seven times in the second half despite holding a lead they treated like weeds in the front lawn. The Cowboys played -- or rather called a game -- not to lose.

SportsNation

Who's most key to getting the Cowboys' run game going?

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    19%
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    43%
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    13%
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    17%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,555)

Murray wants to win and prove something to people -- maybe at Valley Ranch, maybe outside of Valley Ranch.

In the fourth quarter after the Cowboys saw their lead dwindle to 29-24, Murray carried the ball just twice. Dallas pushed the lead to 36-24 but with the defense falling apart allowed another score to return the advantage to five, Murray carried the ball just one more time.

That's right, just one more time.

He was supposed to get a carry on a second and 6, but quarterback Tony Romo didn't like the defensive look and changed the play as if it were the second quarter instead of the fourth, when the clock needed to be chewed up. Instead of Murray running into seven or eight defenders, he watched as the quarterback threw an interception on a quick pass.

Murray stormed off the field and took off his helmet screaming.

That's the only outward expression Murray showed Sunday that leads one to believe he didn't like the decision or its result. When the game was over, Murray didn't storm the locker room; he causally walked out the back door and declined to talk about what just happened.

Does Murray have a right to be upset?

He's battled perceptions that he's not durable enough to play. He's missed two games this season with a sprained knee, increasing discussions that he can't survive a 16-game season.

Murray may not play 16 games a season, but he's on the verge of reaching 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Murray needs just 23 rushing yards, an amount he should get in Landover, Md., on Sunday afternoon against the Redskins, to become the first Cowboys running back to reach 1,000 since Julius Jones did it in 2006.

Murray should be upset. He's turned into a fighter, someone whom Bryant wants on his side.

If the Cowboys are going to do anything this season -- and they have two games remaining to do so -- Murray needs the ball more often.

Five Wonders: Tagging Jason Hatcher?

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have had some time to wonder some things after their win on Thanksgiving against the Oakland Raiders.

Every Tuesday as always wonder about some things. Five Wonders is back and off we go:
  • Jason Hatcher is having a career year and it could not have come at a better time. Hatcher will be a free agent after the season and already has more sacks this year than he has had in any season. And he could make the Pro Bowl, which is something he mentions frequently. But Hatcher will turn 32 next July. I'm on record saying the Cowboys can't pay age. But I wonder if the Cowboys would consider using the franchise tag on him. It would chew up $9-10 million in salary-cap room, but they would buy some time in finding defensive line help for beyond 2014. The Cowboys will have to make a number of moves to get under the cap, but they would be able to fit Hatcher in at the franchise number. Is it worth it? The Cowboys put the tag on Anthony Spencer last year, paying him $10.6 million. I thought it was the right move at the time and did not second guess it after Spencer's knee injury cost him all but one game this season. I'm not as sure about tagging Hatcher. They might have to restructure more deals than they would want and that would also affect the cap in 2015 and beyond. And last year the defensive line market was thin, even for the top players.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys will have a decision to make on backup quarterback Kyle Orton in the offseason. He will make $3.25 million in 2014 and count $4.377 against the salary cap. The Cowboys will have to do a lot of maneuvering to get under the cap in the offseason and could just restructure Orton's contract in the same way they did last March. The Cowboys have yet to start the clock on finding Tony Romo's replacement, which is another reason to keep Orton around. But the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers also offer up valid reasons to keep Orton even if he does not throw a pass this year. The Packers season has gone to shreds without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won since losing Rodgers, turning first to Seneca Wallace, who got hurt, then to Scott Tolzien and now they're on Matt Flynn. The Bears are 2-3 without Jay Cutler, though it is difficult to put much of the blame on Josh McCown. He's done a nice job and been a stabilizing force, but the Bears appeared to learn their lesson when they lost Cutler in previous seasons. Romo turns 34 in April. He's battled injuries in the past and had back surgery last April. Keeping Orton makes sense and something I think the Cowboys do. It's an insurance policy worth keeping.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys had Laurent Robinson in the back of their mind when they have signed some of these defensive linemen this season. Confused? Hear me out. In 2011, Robinson had a career year with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, but because the Cowboys signed him to a minimum salary-benefit contract they were unable to re-sign him before he hit free agency. Jacksonville swooped in with a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. It was way too rich for the Cowboys -- and ultimately the Jaguars -- but without the restriction Robinson would have re-signed with the Cowboys at a much cheaper rate. That brings me to the defensive linemen. When the Cowboys signed George Selvie, Everette Brown, Jarius Wynn, Drake Nevis and Martez Wilson, they made sure they got a second year on the contracts. They are all signed through 2014, so if they hit -- and Selvie is a hit -- the Cowboys hold their rights for a second year. That's a shrewd move, in my opinion.
  • I wonder if DeMarco Murray can reach 1,000 yards. Yep, I do. Murray missed two games with a knee injury and essentially missed a third when he got just four carries for 31 yards against the Minnesota Vikings when the game plan called for Tony Romo to pass the ball early and often. But with four games to go Murray needs 303 yards to reach 1,000. In his last three games Murray has rushed for 89, 86 and 63 yards. If he keeps up that pace, he would get there. Reaching 1,000 yards should not be that difficult, but the Cowboys sure seem to make it difficult after years of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith almost annually reaching the mark. The last Dallas runner to go for more than 1,000 yards was Julius Jones (1,084) in 2006 and that's the Cowboys only 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.
  • I don't wonder if the Cowboys will rue the day they lost Alex Tanney, just as I don't think the Cowboys have rued the day since losing Matt Moore oh so many years ago. (Long-time readers will know how I feel about Moore). The Cleveland Browns signed Tanney off the Cowboys' practice squad last week. I liked what Tanney did in a short time with the Cowboys over the summer. He showed some things in his preseason work, but there will be a new Tanney next summer. Or even next week. I wonder if the Cowboys add a quarterback to the practice squad over the final month of the season. They could use the last four weeks to bring a guy in for a free look and essentially give him a “signing bonus” for four weeks of being on the practice squad and sign him to a futures deal when the season ends.
Ed Werder talked briefly about DeMarco Murray's durability with Fitzsimmons and Durrett on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM today.

PODCAST
ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Jerry Jones' recent comments, Cowboys OTAs, Dez Bryant and more.

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Murray has missed nine games because of injuries in his brief two-year career.

In comparison, Emmitt Smith missed a total of seven games in his career with the Cowboys and none his first two seasons. Tony Dorsett missed just 10 games in his career, none his first two season,s and three in the first five years of his career.

You could say, well, Dorsett and Smith are Hall of Fame players, and durability is one reason for their success.

Let's examine another former Cowboys starting running back: Julius Jones.

Jones missed 11 games in a four-year career with the Cowboys, including eight his rookie season. He missed 11 games the first two years of his career and none thereafter.

The Cowboys need Murray on the field, and his absence from the first day of the organized team activities on Tuesday raised some concerns about his long-term health.

It's part of the reason why the Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle in the fifth round. You need quality backups, at least someone who can start in case the starter goes down with an injury.

Murray is a good running back, has the right attitude about the position, is physical, tough and fast. Health is the biggest problem for him at this stage of his career.

Should it worry the Cowboys?
IRVING, Texas – Jerry Jones basically bought an ad in the NFL classifieds during Monday’s pre-draft press conference, sending out the message that the Cowboys could be in trade-down mode when they get on the clock with the 18th overall pick.

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Randy Galloway, Matt Mosley and Glenn "Stretch" Smith discuss some of the players the Cowboys should be looking at in the upcoming NFL draft.

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That news was met with a lot of moaning and groaning from Cowboys fans.

How can you be adamantly against trading down if you have no idea what the offer might be or which players might be available? Folks just don’t trust GM Jerry.

Should they in this situation? Let’s look at the Cowboys’ history of trading down in the first round during the Jerry era.

1991 -- No. 14 overall (obtained from New Orleans – RB Leonard Russell) to New England for No. 17 overall (traded to Washington – DT Bobby Wilson) and No. 110 overall (DE Kevin Harris).

No. 17 overall (Wilson) to Washington for No. 20 overall (traded to Detroit -- DT Kelvin Pritchett) and No. 132 overall (Darrick Brownlow).

No. 20 overall (Pritchett) to Detroit for No. 37 overall (LB Dixon Edwards), No. 64 overall (G James Richards) and No. 108 overall (DE Tony Hill).

PODCAST
How close were the Cowboys to getting John Elway in 1983? Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss what could have been if John Elway got his wish and was traded to Dallas.

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These three deals have to be judged essentially as one. After all the wheeling and dealing was done, the Cowboys turned the 14th overall pick into a second-round linebacker who started for two Super Bowl title teams (Edwards), a third-round guard who never played an NFL game (Richards), a fourth-round defensive end who played 13 games in two NFL seasons (Hill) and a fifth-round linebacker who made 11 tackles in two separate one-year stints in Dallas (Brownlow).

This was a case of great value on Jimmy Johnson’s trade chart and essentially a push in reality. Russell ended up being a decent running back, rushing for 3,973 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career, and it’s not as if the Cowboys passed on a Hall of Famer who went later in the first round. Edwards contributed to three title teams, starting for two.

This deal would have been a steal if the Cowboys selected offensive tackle Erik Williams at No. 64 overall. They ended up drafting him six picks later.

1993 -- No. 29 overall (S George Teague) and No. 112 overall (Albert Fontenot) to Green Bay for No. 46 overall (WR Kevin Williams), No. 54 overall (LB Darrin Smith), No. 94 overall (RB Derrick Lassic) and No. 213 overall (LB Reggie Givens).

PODCAST
Nate Newton went undrafted in 1983, but he still feels like he was part of one of the greatest draft classes in league history. Newton joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss his draft experience from 30 years ago and his journey to three rings.

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Both of the second-round picks the Cowboys acquired contributed to two Super Bowl title teams. Williams was a quality punt and kick returner who started at receiver for the Cowboys’ last championship team, setting career highs with 38 catches for 613 yards and two touchdowns that season. Smith started all four of his seasons in Dallas.

Teague had a solid nine-year career, but he ended up spending most of that in Dallas anyway. Fontenot also lasted nine NFL seasons, making 81 starts. Lassic lasted 10 games, and Givens never played for the Cowboys.

Give the Cowboys a win for this deal, but it wasn’t lopsided by any measure.

1995 -- No. 28 overall (LB Derrick Brooks) to Tampa Bay for No. 41 overall (traded to Atlanta – DB Ron Davis) and No. 63 overall (OG Shane Hannah).

All Brooks did in Tampa Bay was go to 11 Pro Bowls, be named first-team All-Pro five times, win a Super Bowl and establish himself as one of the best linebackers of his generation.

Hannah started the Cowboys’ tradition of early-round offensive line busts, getting hurt in training camp and never playing a game in the NFL. They flipped Davis for a second-rounder (RB Sherman Williams) and fourth-rounder (TE Eric Bjornson), a couple of backups who combined for 10 career touchdowns.

This might be the worst draft-day deal the Cowboys ever made.

1996 -- No. 30 overall (Andre Johnson) to Washington for No. 37 overall (DE Kavika Pittman) and No. 67 overall (C Clay Shiver).

Pittman made 18 sacks in eight NFL seasons (10 in four seasons for the Cowboys). Shiver started 25 games, but that was evidence of how weak the Cowboys were at center, as he was out of the league after three years.

Johnson was a huge bust for the Redskins. He never played a game in Washington.

The Cowboys would have been better off staying put and drafting Texas product Tony Brackens in the first round. Brackens, picked No. 33 overall by Jacksonville, had 55 sacks and 27 forced fumbles in his eight-year career.

2002 -- No. 6 overall (DT Ryan Sims) to Kansas City for No. 8 overall (SS Roy Williams), No. 75 overall (CB Derek Ross) and a sixth-round pick in 2003 (WR Zuriel Smith).

A couple of Williams’ five Pro Bowl berths were reputation selections after his performance fell off, but he was a dominant force as a playmaking intimidator early in his career. That’s much more than you can say for Sims, who only had one more sack in his career than Williams did.

Ross looked like a steal when he had five picks as a rookie, but the character red flags that caused him to drop into the third round proved true. Bill Parcells got rid of him midway through Ross’ second season. Smith played nine games for the Cowboys, contributing primarily as a return specialist.

This was a good deal for Dallas, just not nearly the steal it seemed destined to be during the rookie seasons of Williams and Ross.

2004 -- No. 22 overall (QB J.P. Losman) to Buffalo for No. 43 overall (RB Julius Jones), No. 144 overall (TE Sean Ryan) and a 2005 first-rounder (DE Marcus Spears).

Spears was a serviceable player for the last eight seasons. Ryan was a nonfactor during his two years in Dallas.

But this deal comes down to Steven Jackson vs. Julius Jones.

The Cowboys decided, based strongly on the input of running backs coach Maurice Carthon, that there wasn’t much difference between the top back on the board and the backs who would be available in the second round.

Jackson has rushed for 10,135 yards and counting, more than twice as many as Jones ran for during his career. Jackson has accounted for 64 touchdowns, almost three times Jones’ total.

Oops.

2007 -- No. 22 overall (QB Brady Quinn) to Cleveland for No. 36 overall (traded to Philadelphia – QB Kevin Kolb) and a 2008 first-rounder (RB Felix Jones).

The Cowboys were tempted to pick Quinn, who they had in the top 10 on their board, but they opted to fully commit to a quarterback with 10 starts under his belt named Tony Romo. Considering that Quinn is with his fourth team and Romo just got $55 million guaranteed, it’s pretty clear that was the right call.

The Cowboys moved back into the first round to select OLB/DE Anthony Spencer, giving up third- and fifth-rounders to do so. No regrets there, with Spencer a solid player coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance and Kolb failing to make an impact in Philadelphia.

This deal would have looked like a stroke of genius if the Cowboys picked Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice or Jamaal Charles the next year. Alas, they selected an Arkansas alum to be a change-of-pace back. Felix Jones had some flashes of brilliance, but his Dallas tenure was a pretty big disappointment given the quality of backs picked behind him.

This was still a solid deal for Dallas.

Seattle Slip stat pack

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
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IRVING, Texas – A stat pack to complement Todd Archer’s tearjerker about Tony Romo’s last trip to Seattle:

9: Current Cowboys who were on the roster for that game: Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Marcus Spears, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff, L.P. Ladouceur, Kenyon Coleman. Romo, Witten, Spears and Ware are the only current Cowboys who started in that game. Coleman left Dallas after that season and returned after four years.

112: Yards rushing on 22 carries by Julius Jones against the Seahawks that night, including a 35-yard run to set up the infamous botched field goal.

189: Passing yards by Tony Romo, who completed 17 of 29 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. Coach Bill Parcells protected the first-year starting QB with a conservative game plan despite facing a Seattle secondary that was so depleted the ex-Cowboy Pete Hunter, who was working as a loan officer in Dallas, was signed that week and played in the nickel package.

93: Yards on a kickoff return for a touchdown by Miles Austin, then an undrafted, unknown rookie.

50: Yards on the field goal Martin Gramatica made in the first quarter

2: Catches by Terrell Owens for 26 yards.

2: Touchdowns for Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens

2: Points for the Seahawks on the safety that resulted from Terry Glenn’s fumble in the fourth quarter, when the ball bounced out of the end zone. It was a critical play in the game that’s largely forgotten because the Cowboys had a chance to win on the field goal with 1:19 remaining.

1: Tackle by DeMarcus Ware, who did not have a sack.

20: Yards gained by Seattle’s Shaun Alexander off left tackle on the snap after the hold slipped through Romo’s hands. That run essentially sealed the win for the Seahawks. The Cowboys otherwise did an outstanding job against Alexander, holding him to 69 yards on 24 carries.

0-2: Parcells' record in playoff games with the Cowboys, his only stop as a head coach where he failed to get a postseason win.

DeMarco Murray must take next step

August, 7, 2012
8/07/12
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys don't need DeMarco Murray to be Felix Jones (injured and inconsistent). Or Marion Barber (a barbarian turned delicate flower).

And the Cowboys surely don't need Murray to be Julius Jones (unfilled potential).

What the Cowboys need Murray to be is the guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder.

They need Murray to remember that five running backs were taken before him in the NFL draft. They need Murray to become a consistent 1,000-yard rusher and someone whom coach Jason Garrett can depend on for 18 to 20 carries a game.

"I was definitely overlooked by a lot of teams," Murray said. "You have a chip on your shoulder. You get five other players taken before you. I had a great career at Oklahoma and I don't take anything away from those organizations. They saw what they liked in those other players. I'm glad I'm where I am at."

Read the full story here.

Retired Marion Barber sacrificed his body

March, 25, 2012
3/25/12
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Former Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber ended his career Friday when he announced his retirement from the NFL at age 28.

[+] EnlargeMarion Barber
Bruce Kluckhoh/US PresswireMarion Barber was always a bruiser with the ball, but his production with the Cowboys decreased as injuries mounted.
It was classic Barber: No news conference, just a statement through his team -- the Chicago Bears.

For a few years, Barber was a force with the Cowboys, who gave him a seven-year, $45 million contract in 2008. At the time, it was deemed the right move because the franchise was moving on from Julius Jones.

Then, Barber started to break down.

His bruising style began to catch up to him. He never lost his starting job but it was clear that he wasn't the same despite leading the team in rushing for three consecutive seasons (2007-09).

Routine 5-yard runs turned into 2-yard runs. He didn't have the same explosviness as in years past. Thigh, toe and knee issues cost him games and his ability to run people over.

His teammates loved his style and that he gave up so much of his body.

But after six seasons and 4,358 rushing yards, sixth-most in franchise history, it was just time for the Cowboys to move on. Felix Jones took over this season and now he's been replaced by DeMarco Murray as the starting running back.

For as much as people want to replace Tony Romo around here (I find the talk silly), looking for Emmitt Smith's replacement seems harder to do more than anything else.

There is a long list of starters the Cowboys have employed to replace the all-time rushing leader, and it will grow again in 2012. Barber was supposed to be one of those players, but it didn't end that way.

What Went Right: DeMarco Murray blows up

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
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This is the fifth installment in ESPN Dallas' five-part series on things that went right for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011.

No. 1: DeMarco Murray emerges as the No. 1 running back

DeMarco Murray’s season started with two carries for no yards at the New York Jets on Sept. 11, 2011 and ended because of a fractured ankle on his fifth carry of the game on Dec. 11 against the New York Giants.

Murray didn’t rush for 1,000 yards. He ran for only two touchdowns. But he changed the Cowboys’ season in 2011 and gives them a ton of hope for 2012.

The Cowboys chose Murray in the third round out of Oklahoma with the idea that he would split time with Felix Jones, but he arrived at training camp with a hamstring that would force him to miss al but one preseason game

It wasn’t until Jones suffered a high ankle sprain on Oct. 16 at New England that Murray took off. He didn’t start the next game against St. Louis but he finished it with a franchise-record 253 yards on 25 carries. He had a 91-yard touchdown run.

Over the next six weeks he would carry the ball at least 20 times in five times. He posted games of 139 and 135 yards. The Cowboys went on a four-game winning streak with Jason Garrett calling a more balanced game of run and pass.

His season ended with the fractured ankle against the Giants and the Cowboys lost three of their last four without him.

The final numbers are impressive: 164 carries, 897 yards. He also caught 26 passes for 183 yards.

In 2012 Murray will get the chance to prove he is closer to the franchise back he looked like before the injury than the next Julius Jones, who could not turn his rookie year success into long-term success.

The Cowboys are banking on it.

Comparing DeMarco Murray, Julius Jones

January, 9, 2012
1/09/12
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IRVING, Texas -- In 2004, the Cowboys finished a disappointing 6-10, but many thought they had found the team’s next great running back in Julius Jones.

Jones missed most of the early part of the season with a broken shoulder but returned for the final seven games and took off. He finished with 803 yards on 192 carries. He had three straight games with at least 30 carries against Baltimore, Chicago and Seattle, displaying durability and toughness. He finished the year strong with 149 yards on 29 carries at the New York Giants.

In 2011, the Cowboys finished 8-8 but many believe the Cowboys have their next great running back in DeMarco Murray.

Before a fractured ankle ended his season in the first half against the New York Giants, Murray had a seven-game run that was similar to Jones’. From Oct. 23 vs. St. Louis through Dec. 4 at Arizona, Murray ran 134 times for 799 yards.

He set the franchise mark for rushing yards in a game with 253 against the Rams. He had two other games with more than 130 yards. He displayed toughness and durability in wins at Washington and against Miami.

In 2004, the average rank of the run defenses faced by Jones was 16.5. In 2011, the average rank of the run defenses faced by Murray was 16.5.

Spooky, no?

Maybe Murray is the Cowboys’ next great back, but just about everybody thought the same of Jones unless they want to get into some Roger Clemens’ “misremembering.” Jones had one 1,000-yard season but was never as good as he was during that seven-game run as a rookie.

Murray helped change the Cowboys’ season in 2011 before getting hurt, but Jones stands as a cautionary tale of too much hype too soon.

5 Wonders: Changes on D, 1,000 yards, vet QB

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
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IRVING, Texas -- It’s Week 17 and it’s the NFC East Championship Game Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the New York Giants, but I’m still wondering about some things.

Here we go:

** Maybe it would be too much of a sign of desperation, but I wonder if the Cowboys need to make a change at left cornerback for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. I asked Jason Garrett if Terence Newman would be the starter and he said he did not anticipate any changes. Maybe if Orlando Scandrick was playing better the Cowboys would consider making a move there. For as well as Newman was playing earlier in the season, he is simply struggling badly at the wrong time of the year. He is not on the injury report, so we can’t say he has anything other than minor bumps and bruised that every player has. He is not playing as aggressively as he did earlier in the year and receivers are having their way with him. Earlier in the season I wondered if Newman could return in 2012 with the same cap number or altered contract. Now, I don’t think the Cowboys will bring him back. That would make Scandrick the starter in 2012, but I wouldn’t rule out an early-round pick or free agent signing to challenge him.

** If you were wondering the last time the Cowboys did not have a 1,000-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard receiver, turn your mind back to 2004. Jason Witten would need 127 yards receiving against the Giants on Sunday to reach 1,000 for the year. Dez Bryant would need 142 yards. Against the Giants’ secondary anything is possible. In 2004, Julius Jones led the Cowboys with 819 rushing yards. Keyshawn Johnson had 981 receiving yards and Witten had 980. The Cowboys have had one 1,000-yard rusher since Emmitt Smith’s departure following the 2002 season when Jones had 1,084 in 2006. DeMarco Murray would have had a chance at cracking 1,000 yards had he not broken his ankle. He finished with 897 yards and had three games left to play.

** The Cowboys were never going to add a veteran quarterback of any consequence for Sunday’s game even if Tony Romo would be unable to play. They would’ve started Stephen McGee and gone with Chris Greisen as the backup. You would not have been able to find a veteran worthy of a call at this time of the year that would have been able to get up to speed quick enough. But now that I’m thinking about it, would the Cowboys have made a call to Bret Favre? I kid, I kid. But I do wonder if Greisen will get called up from the practice squad even with Romo healthy enough to play. They did it last year when Jon Kitna had a hip problem and McGee started. The emergency quarterback last Saturday was tight end John Phillips. I understand you’d be in a world of hurt if you’d need Greisen to play Sunday against New York, but I’d rather have him take snaps than Phillips.

** I wonder how much change there will be on the Cowboys’ defense in 2012. Anthony Spencer, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Abram Elam, Alan Ball and Frank Walker are regulars on the defense and are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2012. Terence Newman is signed through 2014 but is scheduled to count $8 million against the salary cap next year. Kenyon Coleman has started every game but is only signed through 2012. That’s seven regulars that could be gone next year. That’s a lot of turnover on one side of the ball. The Cowboys are likely to look to Bruce Carter, Victor Butler, Barry Church and Sean Lissemore from inside the building to play larger roles next year, but there will be plenty of work to do to improve. I can’t see Jerry Jones believing the talent level on that side of the ball is fine.

** I wonder how happy Fox is in losing Sunday’s game between the Cowboys and Giants. The Cowboys are the closest thing to must-see TV in the NFL and Fox will not have either matchup with the Giants this year. That can’t make them happy and I wonder if they try to flex their NFC muscles next year in keeping more Cowboys games, especially against NFC East foes. They had only two of the Cowboys’ six NFC East games (Washington, Philadelphia). But I do give credit to Commissioner Roger Goodell for altering the schedule makeup by making sure the final games of the year are intra-divisional. Imagine how uneventful it would’ve been this year if the Giants and Cowboys were playing NFC West opponents in Week 17. This game should be a huge ratings draw, and that will make Fox even more upset.

DeMarco Murray named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
6:34
PM ET

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for November. He became the featured running back against St. Louis after Felix Jones was injured and helped lead the team to a 4-0 record for the month of November. In the four games, he rushed 89 times for 434 yards (4.9 avg.) with one touchdown while adding 20 receptions for 156 yards (7.8 avg.). Murray is the second Cowboys player to receive the monthly offensive rookie award.

Cowboys NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month winners:
Nov. 2004 -- Julius Jones
Nov. 2011 -- DeMarco Murray

Cowboys NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month winners:
Oct. 1997 -- Dexter Coakley
Oct. 2005 -- DeMarcus Ware


This marks the fourth NFC weekly or monthly winner for the Cowboys this season:
Tony Romo -- Week 2 NFC Offensive Player of the Week
Dan Bailey -- Week 3 NFC Special Teams Player of the Week
Sean Lee -- September NFC Defensive Player of the Month
DeMarco Murray -- November NFC Offensive Rookie of the Month - November

The DeMarco Murray Effect

November, 7, 2011
11/07/11
2:19
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- DeMarco Murray has done something Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett never did.

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Mike Golic from Mike and Mike joins Coop and Nate to discuss the Cowboys victory, Dez Bryant, and other news around the NFL.

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Murray has the best three-game rushing totals in team history with 466 yards, thanks to his 139-yard effort Sunday vs. Seattle. Smith’s best three-game run was 446 yards in 1993. Dorsett never topped 433 yards in the same amount of games.

Julius Jones had 436 yards on a three-game run in 2004, including a 198-yard effort against Seattle.

Murray has helped changed the dynamic of the Cowboys’ offense.

“Oh, man, he gives us confidence that if we make our blocks he’s going to hit it hard and going to get in the end zone,” guard Montrae Holland said. “As an O-lineman it makes you more eager to block.”

That Murray has been this good is a revelation after missing almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury.

“He runs really, really hard,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Obviously we have seen those big runs he’s had, but he turns two- or three-yard gains into nice 10-yard gains. He takes some big hits and he gets up. And he’s done a great job of protection. He did a great job in the passing game, he had huge catches yesterday. We all saw where he took a swing pass and turned it into a 12-yard gain. He’s played great. And he comes in every day and works his butt off. He had the big game a couple of weeks ago against St. Louis, and then Wednesday he’s out there playing scout team. It’s like, ‘I don’t think you need to be the scout team back any more, DeMarco. I love the mentality that you have, but get some rest. We need you over here.’ But I think that mentality pays off for him. He’s been great. He’s been a dynamic player for us. Our offense and really our team has been better and had success because of the way he plays.

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