Will DeMarco Murray rush for 1,000 yards?
Callahan's commitment to run helps
Bold statement? Perhaps.
Murray has yet to play a full season. He was limited to 10 games last year because of a foot injury and managed only 663 yards rushing. As a rookie in 2011, he had 897 yards in seven starts with three 100-yard games.
Rushing for 1,000 yards should not be as difficult as the Cowboys have made it since Emmitt Smith's departure after the 2002 season. Julius Jones had 1,084 yards in 2006. Marion Barber came close with 975 yards in 2007. Even Troy Hambrick came close with 972 yards in 2003. Smith had 975 yards in his final season.
What once seemed like a given in Cowboys history with Smith (11 1,000-yard seasons) and Tony Dorsett (eight), seems like a chore.
But Murray will reach four figures this year because of the Cowboys' stated commitment to not only run the ball better in 2013, but to run it more. Having an offensive line coach as a playcaller in Bill Callahan will help. Tony Sparano was the offensive line coach and playcaller in 2006 when Jones had more than 1,000 yards. He was heavy in Garrett's ear in 2007 when Barber came close and the team finished with 1,746 yards that year.
Murray has pledged that this will be his breakout season. He has shown flashes in his first two seasons but a broken ankle and sprained foot did him in. For those who want to call him injury prone, fine, but I don't necessarily agree with the assessment. Injury prone, to me, means guys with muscle strains. Murray has had structural breakdowns based more on accidents than anything he has done with the Cowboys.
Murray looks the part -- and has always looked the part really -- and understands the importance of this season for him setting up the future.
Here's another reason for optimism for Murray's quest for 1,000 yards: The Cowboys plan to go with more two-tight end sets. Murray likes to run without a fullback. He sees things better. There is not as much traffic in front of him that he needs to decipher. The zone scheme the Cowboys will use will allow him to, in a way, pick his hole.
For all of those reasons, I see Murray going for more than 1,000 yards.
So that means he will average 62.5 yards a game.
That doesn't seem so hard, does it?
Potential roadblocks: Injuries, O-line
DeMarco Murray is a solid running back. He has proved he can start games in the NFL and become an effective weapon for an offense.
But gaining 1,000 yards this season just isn't in his future. Why? Health, offensive line play and the passing game are the reasons.
It's not because he can't do it, because I believe he can. Just not this year.
Murray's durability -- he missed six games in 2012 with a sprained foot -- is a concern within the Cowboys front office. It's a reason why the team drafted RB Joseph Randle in the fifth round this past spring.
It's also why the Cowboys are planning on keeping four running backs on the roster. You know, just in case.
Murray said he feels great and expects to finish the season healthy.
The offensive line might not help Murray get the yards necessary to reach that milestone. Tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith have done a nice job in the early stages of training camp, and it appears Free will perform better than last season.
The interior of the line is the issue. There will be a rookie center (Travis Frederick), and starting guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau haven't practiced with the first-team line during offseason workouts or the early stages of training camp because of injuries.
Will they be healthy? You'll have to hold your breath going into the season.
Backup linemen Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin have been inconsistent thus far in training camp. The young linemen have been pushed around by the Cowboys defensive front, which has its own health issues at the moment.
So pardon me if it's hard to believe in what this line can achieve in Week 1 against the New York Giants.
Want more evidence? During Monday's practice, four linemen were on the ground during a Murray run. The next play, two more went down.
Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys need to run it more. If not, the success of the team will be an issue.
The Cowboys will use a two-tight end set primarily to open up the offense and prevent defenses from moving a safety closer to the line of scrimmage.
It's harder to run against eight-man fronts in the NFL. Everyone knows that.
While spreading it out decreases a defense's ability to stack the box, there are just too many potential problems with the offensive line and injuries to believe that Murray can rush for 1,000 yards.
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