DeMarco Murray: 1,000 times ahead of last year

IRVING, Texas – Expect much more from DeMarco Murray than what you saw during his occasionally spectacular but injury-riddled rookie season.

That doesn’t mean Murray will match the franchise-record 253 rushing yards he racked up in his first game as the Cowboys’ featured back. He might not have another four-game stretch of 601 yards, either.

But Murray’s role can be expanded because he’s much more ready to play than he was at the beginning of last season, when the lockout and a hamstring injury robbed him of precious practice reps. Murray is healthy and ready to be the true workhorse back the Cowboys have lacked since Emmitt Smith’s heyday.

“Last year I was behind the eight ball so bad it was ridiculous,” Murray said. “This year, I’ve been able to work out with the teammates, watch the extra film, get the physical reps on the field and come back out and watch myself and correct the mistakes. I feel a thousand times ahead of where I was last year.”

If you had any questions about Murray’s health coming off a season-ending fractured ankle, all you had to do was watch one training camp practice. He’s as explosive as ever, and his preseason snaps were limited even more than the other healthy starters to ensure he’d be fresh for Sept. 5 and beyond.

We saw Murray’s potential as a runner during his rookie season, when he ran for 897 yards, averaging 5.5 per carry. There’s much, much more to Murray’s game that the Cowboys should be able to utilize after he had a full offseason and training camp.

In particular, Murray can be a significant weapon as a receiver. That’s evident from his production in the passing game at Oklahoma, where he had 157 receptions for 1,571 yards and 13 touchdowns during his career.

The Cowboys weren’t able to really utilize that facet of Murray’s game last season, when he had only 26 catches for 183 yards. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Murray’s reception total doubled and his yards per catch increased significantly this season.

“He’s matured as a player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We feel like he was a mature player coming in. We saw him do a lot of things at Oklahoma – running the ball, catching the ball, protecting, all those things – and I think he showed he can do that at this level. He’s a very serious-minded guy. It’s important to him, he works hard at it, so we expect him to continue to grow.”