OXNARD, Calif. — The handshake is one of the first things that grabbed Jerry Jones’ attention. In meeting DeMarco Murray for the first time at Valley Ranch before the NFL Draft, Jones wasn’t quite prepared for the Oklahoma running back’s firm greeting.
“It hurts if you’re not ready for it,” Jones told FOXSportsSouthwest.com last Friday. “But it speaks to his professionalism. In all my years here, I can’t recall someone making such an immediate impression.”
And that was before Murray, a third-round pick, took the field and had the greatest three-week stretch in franchise history. He finished with 897 rushing yards despite only starting seven games. Murray’s rookie season ended abruptly with a broken right ankle in Week 14 against the New York Giants, but he’s fully healed and has been the most impressive offensive player to watch in training camp. Head coach Jason Garrett is already using Murray as an example of how every other player on the roster should practice. His collisions with inside linebacker Sean Lee, another camp standout, have set the tone for one of the most physical Cowboys camps in years.
Defensive end Jason Hatcher was stumped earlier this offseason when asked to identify the leaders on this team. Now, it appears he has a couple more options. Murray and Lee both carry themselves as if they’ve been around for years. They’re not waiting for a veteran to point the way.
“DeMarco was all business from the start,” Jones said following an afternoon practice. “He’s a pro. He was inordinately accomplished as a blocker coming out of college, and that tells you a lot. When you see [the leadership] this early, you wonder if it’s just borne, as opposed to being developed with seniority.”
Players such as Murray and Lee have put all this “window closing” talk on the backburner. They bring a great deal of confidence to the field as well as a certain amount of nastiness. Murray sends messages to his teammates during practices. He seems to crave contact, and that’s why he’ll occasionally end a run by delivering an elbow to an unsuspecting linebacker or cornerback (poor Teddy Williams suffered a concussion).
Murray wears a T-shirt underneath his pads with the words “Don’t talk it, walk it” written on the back. On the front, are the letters G.A.T.A., which stand for “Get After That Ass.” The T-shirt was designed by his mixed martial arts instructor in his hometown Las Vegas. He’s been involved in MMA training for four years and he recently signed on with a lifestyle brand called Bad Boy. He says the training has helped his quickness and overall agility.
Murray only had two carries in Monday’s first preseason game, but he’s likely to stay on the field for the entire first quarter Saturday against San Diego. With Jason Witten out indefinitely with a lacerated spleen, Murray could be called upon even more in the passing game early in the season. His versatility was a big reason the Cowboys coveted Murray, but he stood out more as a rusher during his rookie season. Running backs coach Skip Peete thinks we’ll see more balance this season.
“He dropped some easy catches last season,” said Peete. “And it looked like he wasn’t concentrating. He’s really improved his concentration and you saw that in our first scrimmage. On a broken play, DeMarco leaked up the field to the perfect spot and Tony [Romo] got him the ball. You can just tell those two are way down the road in terms of chemistry.”
It didn’t take Murray long to supplant former first-round pick Felix Jones as the feature back in this offense. Now, it will be surprising if Jones gets more than six or seven carries per game. He’ll become the so-called change-of-pace back.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Murray knows only one pace. And that’s why the Cowboys need him on the field for 16 games.