Cowboys’ Murray aims for 1st injury-free season

DeMarco Murray stares down discussions about two injury-plagued

seasons with the Dallas Cowboys the same way he does defenders in

the open field: as though he’s about to hit something.

”Any other questions,” the third-year running back says with a

glare.

Murray is ready to do what he finally did in his third year with

the Oklahoma Sooners – put in a full season after frustrating

setbacks cut short the first two.

He’s just not interested in rehashing the broken right ankle

that ended his rookie season in Dallas seven weeks after he set a

franchise record with 253 yards in his first start. Or the

dislocated kneecap with the Sooners late in his freshman season

after Murray set a school record with five touchdowns in his

debut.

”There are some things that I can’t control,” said Murray, who

missed six more games last season with a sprained left foot. ”All

I can control is when I’m out there on the field and doing whatever

I can to help this team win.”

So far so good in 2013, although he caused a few whispers about

his health when he was relegated to sideline conditioning work for

the first offseason practice in May. He said at the time he was

just being cautious with a hamstring, and training camp has proven

him right.

Murray didn’t miss any practice time because of injuries over

nearly four weeks in California, and he has plenty to accomplish

besides staying healthy. Thanks in part to his foot problem last

year, the Cowboys had the worst per-game rushing average in

franchise history (79 yards).

”I would say as a team and as a unit the last two years I’ve

been here, we haven’t played up to par,” said Murray, who had 911

yards as a rookie despite missing the last three games, but slid

back to 663 yards last season. ”We haven’t gotten to where we want

to, but we’ve made some strides to get better as a team, as an

organization from OTAs and minicamp and now to training camp.”

The Cowboys, who play their fourth preseason game Saturday night

at home against Cincinnati, weren’t supposed to tackle in training

camp, with the brief exception during a Blue-White scrimmage that

involved mostly third- and fourth-team players. But that didn’t

keep Murray – or defenders he engaged – off the ground.

Murray and his new center, rookie Travis Frederick, were still

running so hard 10 yards downfield that they both went sprawling to

the grass in one of the most spectacular collisions of a physical

camp.

Even when the whistle blew to stop play before a tackle, Murray

was looking for contact the same way he’s done in games. And when

linebacker Sean Lee wasn’t knocking Murray around as the whistle

blew, he was clawing at the ball.

”It’s always a grind whenever you’re going best on best,”

Murray said. ”Every day we’re out here competing. We’re just

having fun. Once the play is over, I’m slapping the guys on the

butt saying, `Good job.’ In between the whistles, it’s definitely

hard.”

And it’s exactly the bruising Murray is looking for. He’s not

huge at 6 feet and 220 pounds, but he plays like a safety. And

Murray will be one of the players to watch with the new rule

designed to penalize running backs who drop their head to take on a

defender outside the hash marks.

”If we’re all honest with ourselves, I don’t know if we all

really, really thought he was going to be as physical a runner as

he’s turned out to be,” coach Jason Garrett said. ”His best trait

as a runner is he finishes runs. It’s just his nature. It’s his

demeanor.”

The Cowboys were attracted to Murray in the first place by his

ability to catch passes after he set an OU record for running backs

with 71 receptions as a senior. But now he has taken to blocking as

well.

Garrett loves to watch him square off against Lee in a blitz

pickup drill, and Murray made the highlight film in practice one

day with a block that knocked safety Barry Church’s helmet off.

Murray apparently got tired of watching footage of blitzing

defenders getting the best of the backs.

”That’s the kind of physicalness he has as a player, and he saw

the tape the first two nights and he really didn’t like it,”

Garrett said. ”So he came back out and he was determined to do it

the right way. It’s just a part of what he’s all about.”

Murray doesn’t really care what the tape showed – good or bad.

His approach to the next snap is the same as the last because his

mantra is simple: never be satisfied.

”That’s just in life,” he said. ”Once you get content with

yourself, the next guy passes you up, whether it’s the CEO or the

football player, coach, anybody. You can never be content.”

Now Murray wants to show he can stay motivated when he’s

healthy, too.

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