By Schuyler Dixon
IRVING — The Dallas Cowboys still see DeMarco Murray as the back who altered the future of their running game with a record-setting day against St. Louis two years ago.
They don’t see him as a back who hasn’t had a 100-yard game in more than a year and can’t seem to invigorate a rushing attack probably best described as stale.
“DeMarco’s a good football player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “And we’ve got to give him more chances and we’ve got to run block for him better up front and on the edges and give him some chances to be successful.”
This is probably a good week to keep trying, with the Rams set to visit the Cowboys on Sunday for the first time since Murray had a franchise-record 253 yards in his first start in 2011. He had a 91-yard touchdown on his first carry — the longest first career TD since the merger in 1970.
Murray had two more 100-yard days almost immediately, and Felix Jones was never considered the starting running back again.
But Murray missed nine games over two seasons, first with a broken ankle and then a sprained foot.
The Cowboys finished last season with the worst per-carry average in franchise history, and it didn’t get much better when Murray returned for the final five games. He has averaged just 3.8 yards per try over the past seven games, capped by just 25 yards on 12 attempts in last weekend’s 17-16 loss to Kansas City.
On Dallas’ first offensive play, Murray bounced back from the line like a rubber ball and lost 2 yards, which leads to several questions.
Is the line not blocking well? Is Murray not seeing the holes? Can running backs have slumps?
If there are any answers, they haven’t come from Murray. He hasn’t taken questions from reporters this week.
“I would tell you that we are definitely working at every end to get our run game up and going and it’s not because we don’t like to run,” said offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, who took over play-calling duties from Garrett this year. “We’d love to run the football. But there were opportunities in the game where we tried to take advantage of the players we have.”
Like the fourth-quarter stretch where the Cowboys ran 19 straight pass plays against the Chiefs. Dallas talked all offseason about easing the burden on Romo, who set franchise records for attempts, completions and yards last year when the running game floundered.
The Cowboys are getting their quarterback that “extra half a second” owner Jerry Jones talked about after they drafted center Travis Frederick in the first round.
Garrett says the pass protection has been the best he’s seen in years with the Cowboys.
But they’re not giving Romo much of an option to hand off and enjoy the scenery from the backfield.
“I feel like I should be better in the run game and I should be a bigger part of it,” Frederick said. “There’s just this list of all these technique things that I need to get better at and I’m way better at than I was when I got here. But you’ve just got to continue working on it.”
Even if there’s something to the idea Murray’s not seeing the field well, a baseball-like move to juggle the lineup is a bit problematic.
The primary backups, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar, have a fumble apiece so far, and fifth-round pick Joseph Randle hasn’t shown the coaches enough to get on the field in the regular season.
“Obviously they have to secure the football,” Garrett said. “That’s a big part of earning that trust of the coaching staff and your teammates.”
Meantime, the Cowboys are trying to rediscover the back who had 601 yards in his first four starts.
“I think he’s done a terrific job,” Callahan said of Murray. “He’ll continue to get better as we move forward. We just have to give him more touches. He’s a good back. He’s physical and he has good eyes and good vision.”
The Cowboys have seen it before, and think they will see it again.
NOTES: WR Dez Bryant (back), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and DEs Anthony Spencer (knee) and DeMarcus Ware (neck) were limited participants in practice Thursday.