Commentary

DeMarco Murray carries load well

Cowboys rookie running back displays power, speed during preseason loss at Miami

Updated: September 2, 2011, 2:57 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

MIAMI -- DeMarco Murray was one of the last men left in the Dallas Cowboys' locker room Thursday night. The rookie was slowly putting on his tie and heading to the team bus as he was wrapping up a discussion about faith and football.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Hans DerykCowboys rookie DeMarco Murray touched the ball 14 times for 96 total yards as the starting running back Thursday.
Murray was a bright spot in the Cowboys' 17-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium, rushing 10 times for 32 yards. He also caught four passes for 64 yards. His first play, a screen pass, went for 48 yards after he read the block of wide receiver Jesse Holley and sprinted down the Dolphins' sideline.

It had to feel good for Murray to be on the field again. It was only his second game as a professional, but it was his most significant playing time since his last year at Oklahoma. Murray ran smooth off tackle and then showed a physical presence when running between the tackles.

"That's what I'm just trying to massage right now," Murray said. "Just trying to run hard between the tackles. All the outside runs, they will come later. I'm just trying to work on that power game."

For three weeks, Murray sat out nursing a strained hamstring suffered while working out during the lockout.

He had to wait his time as fellow young running backs Lonyae Miller and Phillip Tanner caught the eye of the coaches.

Murray could only stand by and listen about his durability issues. When he was drafted in the third round out of Oklahoma, the draft buzz was Murray wouldn't stay healthy enough to play.

So he arrived hurt for his first training camp.

"Everybody goes through that," Murray said quietly when asked about hard times. "God doesn't put anything on you that you can't handle. My faith was tested. I did ask, 'Why me?'"

The Cowboys' running back situation got interesting thanks to Murray. He was drafted to challenge Tashard Choice for the No. 2 spot, but his injury and then Choice's halted that competition.

Both returned to the field last week. Choice looked strong in his return, and so did Murray. But Choice suffered a bruised knee and stayed home.

That allowed Murray to take over starting running back duties. He touched the ball 14 times, and displayed the speed and power the Cowboys were looking for when they drafted him.

"We felt like he was an instinctive football player coming out of school and we felt like he was going to pick things up quickly," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "But when you factor in not having an offseason, being banged up coming into camp and then missing all of that time, I think he's done really well the last couple of weeks."

How the Cowboys move forward with Murray remains to be seen. We know Felix Jones is the starter, and he's shown in the preseason that he can handle a workload of 15 to 20 carries a game, plus five or six receptions.

Choice is a guy who wants just as many touches even though he understands he will back up Jones. But Murray isn't acting like he's an understudy.

Sure, Murray respects his place on the depth chart, and can't wait to speak with Choice about what he did right and wrong in the game.

This is a business, and NFL teams move people in and out on a regular basis. Marion Barber was released to make room for Jones, and Choice is being pushed by Murray.

That's a process Murray is ready to embrace.

"I was very anxious and excited at the same time, and I had a good feeling last week after getting a few carries here and there," Murray said. "This week I knew I was going to start and get the bulk of the reps, and it felt good to finally get out there."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

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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