Published November 29, 2012
IRVING, Texas – Dallas running back DeMarco Murray is finally practicing again.
It's unknown if he'll play Sunday night against Philadelphia, and whether his six-game absence is what ails the Cowboys' running game.
Murray was a limited participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday in what coach Jason Garrett said was the most football work the second-year pro has done since spraining his right foot against Baltimore on Oct. 14.
Murray declined interviews after both practices, but did acknowledge a "good first day" in a playful exchange with reporters Wednesday.
"If he's ready to go, it will be a boost," quarterback Tony Romo said. "If not, some guys will have to continue to step up."
The question is whether it's a coincidence the Cowboys have rushed for more than 100 yards just once — and only 101 at that — in six games without Murray, who had a franchise-record 253 yards in his first start as a rookie last season and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
This year, he had three straight games with a per-carry average under 4 yards before getting 90 and injuring his foot in the first half against the Ravens. He had one 3-yard carry after halftime before going to the sideline for good, and the Cowboys have been on a steady slide to last in the league in rushing ever since.
"I'm hopeful," offensive line coach Bill Callahan said. "When he comes back, we'll see how he feels and see where it all is."
Felix Jones has seen most of the work in Murray's absence, but he's been slowed by injuries to both knees. While he had 71 yards and another 22 yards receiving with a touchdown in the team's only 100-yard rushing game since Murray's injury, Jones is averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.
There was a chance undrafted rookie Lance Dunbar would start last week against Washington, but Jones managed to stay in the lineup. It didn't matter much after the Cowboys fell behind 28-3 in the first half and had just two rushing attempts in the second half. Jones finished with 14 yards on six carries.
Jones missed practice when Murray returned Wednesday, but he was back on the field as a limited participant Thursday.
"He's done a really good job of fighting through a couple of the injuries," Garrett said. "Knowing the situation at running back with DeMarco being out for a little while, he's just kind of stepped up and gotten himself ready to play in the ballgames."
The possible return of Murray could also get a boost from a healthier offensive line. Phil Costa, the starting center, remains out with an ankle injury, but Ryan Cook is practicing again after a knee injury forced Mackenzy Bernadeau to slide over from guard the past two games. Left tackle Tyron Smith is closer to a return after spraining an ankle early in the loss to Cleveland on Nov. 18.
"The continuity helps a lot. At the same time, no excuses," Bernadeau said. "We're taught the technique and we take the responsibility of being able to know our jobs and assignments and being able to block consistently and improve. And that's something we haven't done yet."
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lschuylerd