Felix Jones gets another shot to excel
For Cowboys to make the playoffs, RB must shine as DeMarco Murray has done
With DeMarco Murray out for the season with a fractured right ankle, Jones will become the Cowboys' main running back and has another chance to show he can indeed handle the job.
The Cowboys need him to do more than just handle the job. If they are going to make a playoff push, they need Jones to excel.
They need him to do what Murray did for the better part of a seven-week span, when the rookie ran for 897 yards and changed the look of the Cowboys' offense.
"That's every day since I stepped foot in this complex or on the field," Jones said. "It's to prove a point, and I have to continue with that."
In training camp, Jones talked about wanting to be the best back in the NFL in 2011. He looked primed for a breakout season, especially after the way he closed 2010 following Jason Garrett's being named the Cowboys' interim coach.
But the yards were hard to come by behind a new offensive line early in the season. His one flash was a 115-yard game Sept. 26 against Washington that featured a 40-yard run.
Two weeks later, he suffered the ankle injury, and Murray burst onto the scene. Murray ran for a franchise-record 253 yards against St. Louis as Jones wore a protective boot as a spectator. He added games of 139 and 135 yards. He had at least 20 carries in five of his first six games as the new lead back.
Before the Redskins game, Jones had never rushed for more than 109 yards in a regular-season game and had just one 20-carry outing in his career.
"He's obviously had some time to heal, gotten rest," running backs coach Skip Peete said. "I think he's ready to go. We wanted to ease him back into the rotation, which we had an opportunity to do. But obviously the workload is going to be a little bit more than we anticipated, but I think as far as his ability to step in and be the lead guy, I think he's ready to do that."
When Murray limped off the field Sunday against the New York Giants, the running game did not go with him. Jones finished with 106 yards on 16 carries. He picked up tough yards inside. He showed patience on the outside runs.
In some ways, he looked like Murray. During his absence, he watched Murray set up runs and blocks. Against the Giants, he found the right balance of patience and urgency that all top-flight running backs need.
Now he has to be like that guy.
Since Jones was drafted, there have been questions about how much of the work he can take. His stock has been hurt by the success of runners selected after him, such as Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Chicago's Matt Forte and Baltimore's Ray Rice.
First with Marion Barber and the past four games with Murray, Jones has been viewed as a complementary back. He has three games (and maybe more) to change the perception.
"Felix has been a very good player for our team the last few years," Garrett said. "He's been an explosive player, a play-making type of guy. I think he's shown people over the last couple of years he can run inside, he can run outside, he's a versatile back. I thought he handled coming back and being a complementary player with DeMarco really well also.
"Having said that, I think he's a competitor and he loves the challenge to go out there and be the guy, the bell cow for our football team. And that's what he's going to be. He's done that for us in the past, and we're excited to see him do it again now."
It's another chance and might be his last.
"Whatever comes for me, I'm ready for it," Jones said. "I'm going to give it all I got."
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.