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Roster Rundown: Murray Faced With Improving On 2013


*Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2014 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features running back DeMarco Murray.)*

Name: DeMarco Murray
Position: Running Back
Height/Weight: 6-0 / 215
Experience: 3 seasons
College: Oklahoma

Key stat:Murray topped out above 130 rushing yards in three separate games last year. He rushed for 175 against St. Louis, 146 against Chicago and 134 against Green Bay.

Contract Status:Signed through 2014

2013 Impact: No player benefited from the improvement of the offensive line play more than DeMarco Murray. The combination of Murray's running style and the work that Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack were able to do with the line gave Murray his best opportunity to shine.

It was a nice marriage asking Murray to carry the ball behind a line that, as the season wore on, became more and more comfortable working together. Murray was able to take full advantage of how this group was able to create holes for him, but also when plays were blocked less than perfect or there was a man or two free, Murray showed outstanding vision and power to convert something out of nothing.

The biggest improvement in Murray's game was around the goal line, as the offense had struggled to get the ball into the end zone on the ground in previous seasons. It's never a bad option to throw a back shoulder fade to Dez Bryant or hit Jason Witten underneath, but Murray was super productive with the ball in his hands when given the opportunity.

There were games where Murray was able to punch the ball in from distances of more than just one or two yards -- like in the Saints game, when he scored from seven yards or more out.

Murray has always been a back that displayed outstanding hands and this goes back to his days at Oklahoma. Of his 53 catches this season, none were as big as his fourth down grab with the game on the line in Washington. Murray has an understanding of how to work in space. It was rare that you would see him covered, and when Tony Romo would get him the ball, the result was usually favorable.

Where Murray also shined was his ability as a pass protector. In just watching his play, you can see that he takes great pride in his ability to pass block. There are backs that refuse to work at it -- but not Murray. I believe that this goes back to what we were able to see in Oxnard, Calif., where each day it was a battle between him and Sean Lee.

With Murray, you never saw him taking a short cut and the results were there. You would be hard pressed to find a back in the league that is as complete as what Murray brings on a weekly basis. It is rare to have a back that doesn't come off the field and that is what you get from Murray and his season proved that.

Where He Fits: Until I am told different, I believe you will see the same type of running game that we observed with Garrett and Callahan in 2013 -- even with Scott Linehan calling the plays. [embedded_ad]

This zone scheme is a perfect fit for Murray and the offensive line. Where there might be a wrinkle will be how they use these backs in the passing game, but that should not be a problem for Murray because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

What will be interesting for Murray will be his approach in going into the final season of his rookie contract. He has had his issues with injury problems in the past, and despite missing several games in previous seasons, there were two games he did not suit up for in 2013.

He physically just played better. I do expect DeMarco Murray to prepare for this 2014 season like he did last year. He was an award winner in the offseason program and I believe it was this type of preparation that landed him a spot in the Pro Bowl and maybe a better pay day in the future.   

Writers' Analysis

David Helman: Murray is one of the most interesting guys on this roster heading into 2014, as far as I'm concerned. After a lackluster first eight games, he showed us all exactly what he's capable of when healthy and running behind good blocks.

Murray was arguably the MVP of the second half of the season, as he tore off big game after big game for an average of 95 yards per contest over the final seven games.

That success is what makes him an interesting story this coming season. Can he follow that hot streak with another strong season? Can he stay healthy? Having finally broken the 1,000-yard barrier, what is his ceiling going forward?

All those little questions lead to one big question: what do the Cowboys do with Murray when his rookie contract expires?

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