DeMarco Murray was on pace to shatter the Dallas Cowboys' rookie rushing record, on the brink of surpassing legends Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith, before a broken ankle ended his season in early December.
Entrenched as Dallas' No. 1 running back heading into training camp in Oxnard, Calif., Murray said Tuesday night in a phone interview with The Oklahoman that his surgically repaired right ankle was completely healed five months ago. He was full go during OTAs and minicamp.
“I was back to normal in 2½ months,” Murray said. “They have a great training staff here, a great rehabilitation process. I didn't feel I rushed it. I feel like I did before I hurt it.”
Oklahoma's all-time leader in all-purpose yards, Murray exploded onto the scene midway through his rookie season.
Backing up Felix Jones, Murray rushed for only 73 yards in Dallas' first five games. Everything changed when Jones was sidelined.
Given a steady dose of carries, Murray compiled the best four-game rushing total in franchise history.
In his first career start, Murray rushed for 253 yards against the Rams, breaking Smith's franchise single-game rushing record. It sparked a stretch in which the Las Vegas native rushed for 601 yards over four games.
“It didn't end from a team standpoint like you would want it to,” Murray said. “We're going to play better this year. We're practicing hard and competing. I love it.
“Individually it was a year that was good but could have been a lot better. My offensive line did a great job blocking all year. We want to finish things a lot better this year.”
A key cog in a dynamic attack, Murray provides balance for a Dallas offense that too often has relied heavily on quarterback Tony Romo and passing options Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
“He's obviously a very talented player,” Romo was quoted recently. “With him back out there, it's going to add another explosive element to the offense.”
A third-round pick, the sixth running back selected in the 2011 draft, Murray showed Dallas fans what OU fans already knew — he's a solid all-around back.
Appearing in 13 games, starting seven, Murray showcased his breakaway speed on a 91-yard touchdown run against St. Louis.
A quality receiver, Murray hauled in 26 receptions as a rookie after recording 155 catches at OU. He also takes pride in being a quality blocker that picks up blitzes.
“I try to be a versatile back,” Murray said. “The more things you can do, the harder it is to game plan that type of player. I work hard on my catching abilities and my blocking and definitely work hard on my running.”
The looming question is, can Murray handle being the Cowboys' workhorse throughout a grueling NFL season?
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Top rookie rushing seasons in Dallas Cowboys history.
Player (year), yards
Tony Dorsett (1977), 1,007
Calvin Hill (1969), 942
Emmitt Smith (1990), 942
DeMarco Murray (2011), 897