The Dallas Cowboys had an interesting offseason upgrading their weaknesses. They added talent in the secondary at linebacker and along the defensive line, but the one area of concern they did not address from a year ago, the running game.
The Cowboys ranked 18 in rushing yards per game with 112.9, but they could not get anything done when it counted and managed to compile just five rushing touchdowns, good enough for 30th in the NFL.
DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones shared the load in the backfield with each man missing some time due to injury, but it is clear coming into this season that Murray will be expected to carry the load for the Cowboys.
He showed flashes of being ready to do that last season when he gained 897 yards despite playing in just 13 games, and getting more than 10 carries in just seven of those 13 games.
He set a franchise record with 253 yards on 25 carries against St. Louis, but in that game he was only able to get a single touchdown despite running roughshod over the Rams.
He topped the 100 yard mark in two other games during the season before a fractured ankle robbed him of the final three and a half games of the season. The Cowboys lost the game he was hurt in, and lost two of the next three, then missed the playoffs.
Despite requiring surgery in the offseason, Murray says he is physically healthy and mentally ready to pick up where he left off last season.
Once I started walking it felt great. It was a minor surgery, a real easy surgery. I've had surgery before, so mentally I was there, Murray said.
But just being back and being healthy won't be enough for the Cowboys to have success. Murray needs to learn to produce week in and week out, not only yards but touchdowns.
Tony Romo, for all his faults, has the second best quarterback rating in the history of the NFL, and when he is paird with an above average rushing game he has proven to be extremely dangerous. In 2009, the only season during his seven years where the Cowboys had a top 10 rushing game they went 11-5 and won their only playoff game of the Romo era.
Romo posted career highs in rating and yards, and a career low in interceptions during that season. In short, Romo is made better by the presence of a strong rushing game. But it is not easy to find that kind of production.
Since Emmitt Smith left, the Cowboys have been searching for a reliable; 18-25 carries a game, every down back. Troy Hambrick, Julius Jones, and Marion Barber have all come and gone in that role without being what the Cowboys were looking for.
Julius Jones came closest to that pinnacle when he accrued 1,084 yards in 2006, but he never again threatened that mark.
The 6'0, 227 pound Murray has the size and measurables of a back that can put up 1,000 yard season after 1,000 yard season. The only thing left for him to do is go out there and prove that he can do it.