What to expect of DeMarco Murray in 2012

It's hard to replace a legend. Really hard.

The Cowboys have been searching for somebody to fill the shoes of Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, for almost as long as they did waiting for Tony Romo to come along and fill the void created by Troy Aikman.

Enter DeMarco Murray. We don't know if Murray is the new star running back. He showed flashes of doing it in 2011 -- gaining 897 yards on 164 carries in 13 games -- until his season ended with a fractured ankle. Those are good numbers, especially considering what the Cowboys have had to work with at running back the last few years.

This is how bad things are at the running back position for the Cowboys.

Tony Dorsett led the Cowboys in rushing for 10 consecutive seasons. Two different players led the team in rushing the next three seasons. Smith came along and added stability, leading the team in rushing 13 times, during which the Cowboys won three Super Bowl titles.

When the Cowboys parted with Smith, the next few years were unnerving. Five different backs led the team in rushing, including two Joneses (Julius and Felix). And after a big-money contract to Marion Barber, who has since retired, the Cowboys are left with Murray.

It's not a bad thing. You can tell he might be special.

Murray's got speed, power and the smarts necessary to navigate the position. He uses his fullback well and -- despite another injury before training camp (hamstring) -- durability might not be a factor.

Jason Garrett doesn't mind running the ball, as long as the offensive line and fullbacks make the necessary holes to get it going.

The numbers indicate that Garrett trusts Murray.

He had five games with 20 or more carries, the most for any running back since Garrett became offensive coordinator in 2007. Murray also became the first back under Garrett to have four consecutive games with 20 or more carries.

Felix Jones, Murray's backup, has had just two games with 20 or more carries since he was drafted in 2008.

Barber, a former starter, had four 20-carry games in 2008, but he only reached that mark once more before being released.

It's hard to say what Murray will do in 2012, but the Cowboys feel confident in his abilities to be an 18-20 carry back -- and the results that will come with it.