IRVING, Texas – Felix Jones finally gets a chance to be the first option again for the Dallas Cowboys.
The fifth-year running back and former first-round pick certainly had to be patient. Jones had only three carries the first four games this season. That included one game when he fumbled away the opening kickoff and later tripped while running alone after catching a short pass on the final play.
With DeMarco Murray out because of a sprained left foot, Jones is set to start Sunday when the Cowboys visit Carolina.
"For me, it's just being patient. I know my opportunities are going to come," Jones said. "I just had to wait for it and when it came, just maximize it."
When Murray broke his right ankle late last season, Jones responded with consecutive 100-yard games. Murray got hurt again last week after 14 carries for 93 yards at Baltimore. Jones finished that game with 18 rushes for 92 yards with a 22-yard touchdown.
"Certainly there's a natural tendency when you know you're going to get more carries, whatever any of us does in those kinds of situations," coach Jason Garrett said Thursday, when asked if he sensed a difference in Jones. "But Felix ix a very motivated guy. He wants to be a heck of a football player."
The Cowboys had 227 yards rushing, the most ever allowed by the Ravens and 99 more than Dallas had in its previous three games combined.
Jones missed much of this past offseason after shoulder surgery. He was then one of three players who started training camp by failing the initial conditioning test, a series of timed sprints.
Still, Jones said he felt like he was 100 percent coming into the season, but just "had to show my team that I was ready."
Garrett said weight was "never really" an issue for the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Jones. The coach said the biggest issue was the injury that forced him to miss the offseason.
"Difficult for him to run and get himself in the condition that he needs to get into to play running back in the National Football League. But that was a long time ago," Garrett said. "He worked his way back through training camp and got some opportunities (Sunday) and showed us what he can do."
Garrett said Jones was explosive and ran hard inside and outside, while breaking tackles and finishing runs. Jones has been on the field for about 100 plays this season. Half of those came against the Ravens.
"It makes you know that you're going to go out there and provide help for your team, so you got to be ready," he said. "I was ready when I was coming in and even more ready right now. It gives you a boost of confidence to go out there and play."
Jones said it felt good to be a little sore and banged up, and that he was ready for another heavy workload.
"I want to help out the team any way possible," he said. "If that's carrying the load, I'm going to do it."
Phillip Tanner will fill in as the No. 2 running back, and rookie Lance Dunbar could take over Jones' kickoff return duties.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a co-captain for the 1964 Arkansas team that went undefeated, had never drafted a Razorbacks player before using one of the Cowboys' two first-round picks in 2008 on Felix Jones. He then became the first rookie in Cowboys history to score touchdowns in his first three games, including a 98-yard kickoff return and a 60-yard run.
When Marion Barber wasn't re-signed, Jones was the starting tailback last season before spraining an ankle. Murray ran for a franchise-record 253 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown, in the first game Jones missed. After 601 yards in that four-game span, Murray kept the starting job until breaking his ankle.
After their rushing breakthrough against Baltimore, the Cowboys face a Carolina team ranked 23rd in the NFL in rush defense (127 yards per game).
"It's huge. ... We want to be consistent with it," offensive guard Mackenzy Bernadeau said. "People see that we can run the ball. We've just got to be more consistent with it."
Fullback Lawrence Vickers said nothing changes with Jones filling in for Murray, who could be out only this week.
Jones is the final season of his rookie contract. So while trying to prove himself to the Cowboys with every opportunity, he could also be showing other teams what he can do heading into his potential free agency.
"I'm just focused on today. Focused on getting ready for the Carolina Panthers," Jones said. "I can't look too far ahead because I'll lose focus of what's going on right now."