IRVING, Texas – DeMarco Murray returned to the practice field Friday after a temporary absence due to illness.
The NFL’s rushing leader stayed home from the team facility on Christmas Day, as he coped with the illness. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the sickness wasn’t all that serious, but the Cowboys opted to rest their feature back – who has 373 carries on the year.
“He was feeling good enough that he could have practiced, but everybody thought it was better for him to get the rest,” Jones said Friday on 105.3 The Fan.
Murray’s return brought the Cowboys’ roster back to nearly full strength as they prepare to travel to Washington on Saturday. The only two players to sit out of Friday’s practice were Doug Free and Dekoda Watson.
Free continues to rehab the foot injury he suffered in Philadelphia, and it looks almost certain that he’ll cede the starting right tackle spot to Jermey Parnell for a second-straight week. Watson is still recovering from his hamstring injury from Nov. 23, but the Cowboys are optimistic he be could be available for the playoffs.
Murray’s presence at practice continues to emphasize the main talking point this week, which is that the Cowboys look likely to play all their starters against the Redskins – despite having the division locked up.
Several scenarios – namely, losses by both Arizona and Seattle – could make it possible for the Cowboys to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. Though those odds seem small, but Jones said he didn’t want to have any regrets about missed opportunities.
“It would be a catastrophe if we walked up there and, for whatever the reason, of our own volition, of our own decision making, pulled back a little bit and then had a chance to get that first-round bye,” he said.
For Murray specifically, there’s more than just playoff positioning at stake – there’s also history to consider. Murray enters Week 17 with 1,745 rushing yards, putting him just 29 yards away from breaking Emmitt Smith’s franchise single-season rushing record of 1,773.
Murray might not admit it, but Jones said he wants his running back to break the record – and he isn’t alone.
“I got it from the man last weekend, he’s rooting for him – I’m talking about Emmitt Smith. He’s rooting for DeMarco Murray,” Jones said. “He came to the game in hopes that he might go down and congratulate him if he had broken it then. I know he’s at peace with it, and we’re so proud of what that means for the whole offensive unit.”
It sounds like Murray’s going to get the opportunity to reach that benchmark, as Jones repeated once again that he expects to see his big-name players handling business against Washington.
“Completely, that is the plan. We’ve prepared and we’re practicing and going about it that way,” he said.