Healthy Murray clear leader of Cowboys' run game
IRVING, Texas (AP) After DeMarco Murray fumbled his first carry of the season, the Dallas Cowboys sure didn't stop giving him the ball.
They didn't even hand off to another running back.
Now that Murray has been mostly healthy for almost two years, the bruising back rules the running game for the Cowboys.
''There's no question he's the main guy, he's the bell cow guy and he's certainly capable of doing that,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''DeMarco's capable of taking the ball 20-25 times a game, throwing it to him and doing a lot of things we're going to ask a running back to do.''
The fourth-year player who set a franchise record with 253 yards rushing the first time he was the featured back as a rookie in 2011 is now piling up the starts without an injury getting in the way.
Murray missed two games with a mild knee sprain last season, but he's started 20 of the past 22 games after sitting out nine times in a 14-game stretch that covered the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
He had an injury-plagued college career at Oklahoma, so there was nothing to suggest the Cowboys could lean heavily on him. There is now with him heading into Sunday's game at Tennessee looking for his ninth career 100-yard game.
''I feel like I've worked hard in the offseason and during the season to make sure I can handle whatever they throw at me,'' said Murray, who bounced back from the fumble to finish with 118 yards and a touchdown in a 28-17 loss to San Francisco. ''Whatever you want to call it.''
Murray spent plenty of offseason time working out with nine-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. He was trying to build on a strong second half of last season that included the second back-to-back 100-yard games of his career and his first Pro Bowl.
''He's eager to learn. He's humble,'' Witten said. ''I think he's got a real bright future and obviously our offense's success I think is going to start with him running the football.''
Murray's backup, Lance Dunbar, is a specialty player who caught three passes but didn't get a carry. Receiver Dwayne Harris had the only other rushing play on a sweep when he lined up behind quarterback Tony Romo.
With 22 carries, Murray finished four shy of his career high. But it was the first time the Cowboys lost in 12 games where Murray had at least 20 carries.
Part of the problem was his tone-setting fumble on the game's second play, when the ball was stripped just before he hit the ground. Chris Culliver picked up the loose ball and ran 35 yards untouched to the end zone.
''When I make mistakes, I wouldn't say I don't care about them, but you've got to have a short memory,'' Murray said. ''You can't worry about great plays or bad plays. They're going to happen.''
Murray also isn't dwelling on 2014 being the final year of his rookie contract. Receiver Dez Bryant appears to be higher priority for the Cowboys, and they couldn't get a new deal done before the season started.
If Bryant stays true to previous comments that he won't negotiate during the season, there's a greater chance Murray will reach the open market not long after he turns 27.
''All I can control is how hard I work every day and on Sundays,'' said Murray, who had career highs with 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns last season. ''It's something I'm not worried about. Never will be. That will take care of itself.''
Emmitt Smith was the last Dallas running back with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons - a streak of 11 straight that ended in 2002. The league's all-time rushing leader was also the last with 300 carries in a season for the Cowboys.
Both of those benchmarks are within Murray's reach if he plays all 16 games for the first time.
''There's no magic number for me,'' Murray said. ''Whatever they give to me, I'll handle and take with a smile.''
He's got a monopoly among Dallas backs so far.
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