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Trial Run: Now Healthy, Murray Puts Ankle Talk Aside


IRVING, Texas - Running back DeMarco Murray has returned to practice the last three weeks, but in all honesty, he felt fully healthy for at least twice that long before the Cowboys started their voluntary organized team activity (OTA) workouts in mid-May.

"Past the ankle. Done talking about the ankle," he said after Wednesday's final OTA at Valley Ranch.

He's ready to prove it on the field just like in 2011, when he showed signs of becoming a featured back before he fractured his right ankle and underwent season-ending surgery after a Dec. 11 loss to the Giants at Cowboys Stadium.

There's a good reason Murray isn't giving injury updates these days. So far, in nine no-tackling practices – three of which were open to the media – he looks as quick and as explosive as he did last year as a third-round draft pick.

"No limitations. I feel great out there," he said.

Running backs coach Skip Peete agrees.

"He's taking every rep he's supposed to take and hasn't missed a beat," Peete said. "Just the stress of planting and cutting on that (ankle), you want to see if they're back completely from that injury. It seems like he obviously has rehabbed and healed 100 percent right now."

It's been a long six months for Murray, who admittedly remained frustrated over his situation until he began walking normally again weeks after surgery. He went from overnight sensation – a franchise-record 253-yard performance on Oct. 23 in his first NFL start for an injured Felix Jones, then by December on pace to becoming the Cowboys' first 1,000-yard rusher since Julius Jones in 2007 – to wearing a cast and crutches.

Moreover, he couldn't be there for his teammates as they slowly slid out of the playoff race, dropping four of five games in the final month to finish 8-8 while the Giants snatched away the NFC East title and a wild card berth in a Week 17 rout.

Murray trusted the Cowboys' doctors and athletic training staff. He worked to get the strength back in his ankle, calf and quad. Now he's back and ready to build on last year's 897 rushing yards, the fourth-most by a Cowboys rookie behind Tony Dorsett (1,007), Calvin Hill (942) and Emmitt Smith (937).

"I'm not worried about last year," Murray said. "I had a good year, but at the end of the day I know this year is very important for me and very important for this year.

"I'm just one guy. Felix is a great running back and he did good the last couple of games I was out. You definitely want all your pieces in there when you're playing the top teams."

The Cowboys don't have their top two pieces just yet. Jones is recovering from January shoulder surgery and should be ready by training camp. Murray remained the starter when Jones returned from injury last November, and the two should eventually settle into a clear rotation.

Murray's workload last season – he rushed at least 20 times in five of his seven full starts before the injury – showed evidence that he will get all the carries he can handle.

Can he provide a repeat of his dazzling rookie stretch?

"I don't know. I would like to be able to answer that question, and if I did I would be coaching 2,000-yard rushers every year," Peete said with a grin. "No, he has the capability of doing that. He has good vision, good balance, runs with power. I think he's a little bit larger than people anticipated to tackle.

"But he's come back and he's in good shape and he's doing a good job. And I don't see any ill effects from his ankle injury."

Murray returns with a reworked offensive line and backfield. The Cowboys figure to have new starters at four and possibly all five line spots – tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free are flipping sides – and new fullback Lawrence Vickers replaces Tony Fiammetta as the lead blocker. The run game was clearly better with Fiammetta cleaning up blocks; in his 10 appearances, the Cowboys averaged 130.4 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Without him, they averaged 75.7 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry.

Peete says Fiammetta, now with New England, was probably a little more athletic, but Vickers is an "old-school, throwback type fullback ... at the point of attack is a little bit more explosive and powerful than Tony was." That should help Murray and Jones move the chains.

The OTAs and next week's mandatory minicamp will continue to help Murray's return. Due to the NFL lockout, he didn't have either as a rookie last summer.

Quarterback Tony Romo is happy to see him back, both as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield. Murray added 26 catches for 183 yards in his 13 appearances.

"DeMarco's obviously a very talented player," Romo said. "With him back out there it's going to add another explosive element to the offense. We've got some good players who are pretty healthy right now and I think we've got a chance to do some good things."

Training camp is right around the corner. Six months was a long enough wait.

"It felt great just getting back on the field," Murray said. "I've been working out for a long time rehabbing and I'm finally done with all of that. It felt good to get back in the huddle with the guys and play some football."

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