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Cowboys' Murray aims for 1st injury-free season

DeMarco Murray stares down discussions about two injury-plagued seasons with the Dallas Cowboys the same way he does defenders in the open field: as though he's about to hit something.

"Any other questions," the third-year running back says with a glare.

Murray is ready to do what he finally did in his third year with the Oklahoma Sooners — put in a full season after frustrating setbacks cut short the first two.

He's just not interested in rehashing the broken right ankle that ended his rookie season in Dallas seven weeks after he set a franchise record with 253 yards in his first start. Or the dislocated kneecap with the Sooners late in his freshman season after Murray set a school record with five touchdowns in his debut.

"There are some things that I can't control," said Murray, who missed six more games last season with a sprained left foot. "All I can control is when I'm out there on the field and doing whatever I can to help this team win."

So far so good in 2013, although he caused a few whispers about his health when he was relegated to sideline conditioning work for the first offseason practice in May. He said at the time he was just being cautious with a hamstring, and training camp has proven him right.

Murray didn't miss any practice time because of injuries over nearly four weeks in California, and he has plenty to accomplish besides staying healthy. Thanks in part to his foot problem last year, the Cowboys had the worst per-game rushing average in franchise history (79 yards).

"I would say as a team and as a unit the last two years I've been here, we haven't played up to par," said Murray, who had 911 yards as a rookie despite missing the last three games, but slid back to 663 yards last season. "We haven't gotten to where we want to, but we've made some strides to get better as a team, as an organization from OTAs and minicamp and now to training camp."

The Cowboys, who play their fourth preseason game Saturday night at home against Cincinnati, weren't supposed to tackle in training camp, with the brief exception during a Blue-White scrimmage that involved mostly third- and fourth-team players. But that didn't keep Murray — or defenders he engaged — off the ground.

Murray and his new center, rookie Travis Frederick, were still running so hard 10 yards downfield that they both went sprawling to the grass in one of the most spectacular collisions of a physical camp.

Even when the whistle blew to stop play before a tackle, Murray was looking for contact the same way he's done in games. And when linebacker Sean Lee wasn't knocking Murray around as the whistle blew, he was clawing at the ball.

"It's always a grind whenever you're going best on best," Murray said. "Every day we're out here competing. We're just having fun. Once the play is over, I'm slapping the guys on the butt saying, 'Good job.' In between the whistles, it's definitely hard."

And it's exactly the bruising Murray is looking for. He's not huge at 6 feet and 220 pounds, but he plays like a safety. And Murray will be one of the players to watch with the new rule designed to penalize running backs who drop their head to take on a defender outside the hash marks.

"If we're all honest with ourselves, I don't know if we all really, really thought he was going to be as physical a runner as he's turned out to be," coach Jason Garrett said. "His best trait as a runner is he finishes runs. It's just his nature. It's his demeanor."

The Cowboys were attracted to Murray in the first place by his ability to catch passes after he set an OU record for running backs with 71 receptions as a senior. But now he has taken to blocking as well.

Garrett loves to watch him square off against Lee in a blitz pickup drill, and Murray made the highlight film in practice one day with a block that knocked safety Barry Church's helmet off. Murray apparently got tired of watching footage of blitzing defenders getting the best of the backs.

"That's the kind of physicalness he has as a player, and he saw the tape the first two nights and he really didn't like it," Garrett said. "So he came back out and he was determined to do it the right way. It's just a part of what he's all about."

Murray doesn't really care what the tape showed — good or bad. His approach to the next snap is the same as the last because his mantra is simple: never be satisfied.

"That's just in life," he said. "Once you get content with yourself, the next guy passes you up, whether it's the CEO or the football player, coach, anybody. You can never be content."

Now Murray wants to show he can stay motivated when he's healthy, too.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler