When the Dallas Cowboys selected DeMarco Murray in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, they didn’t think they were getting a future superstar, even if a few members of the coaching staff and front office say otherwise. Murray was a risk pick considering his injury history at Oklahoma, but absolutely exploded in his first real action during his rookie year. Naturally, injury ended his record-breaking year early and then it plagued him throughout the entire 2012 season after an incredible start in the season-opening win over the New York Giants. Now entering his third season, Murray is out to develop the skill of staying healthy.
If there’s one thing Murray must accomplish during the offseason and training camp this year, it’s learning how to keep from getting injured. That’s much easier said than done, but deep football minds will tell you that staying on the field is indeed a skill, especially for NFL running backs.
Most NFL players have little-to-no injury-preventative care and minimal rehab in high school and even college, so by the time they get to the pros, their bodies are already in rough shape, even though they’re in their early 20s. Murray is no exception, so instead of improving his regular skills as a runner, he needs to make himself less injury-prone in preparation for the preseason and regular season.
There are multiple ways to do that, but it starts with proper preventative care. Many trainers at all levels of football over-tape ankles, which actually has the opposite effect of the intention and increases the risk of injury. Considering Murray’s ankles haven’t exactly been sturdy during his career, that’s a good start.
In addition, the lack of healing for certain muscles can increase the risk of injuries to bones, ligaments and tendons and the way to prevent that is massage therapy performed by a trigger point therapist. This isn’t the kind of massage that puts you to sleep; it’s the kind that restores soft muscle tissue after practices and games. That tissue is damaged with the kind of contact that players experience in football and it’s especially damaging with running backs.
Finally, Murray simply has to learn how to reduce damaging hits on the field. This is the hardest part, especially for a player like Murray who runs with power and likes to hit defenders before they hit him. That’s partially what makes Murray effective — he has the ability to break tackles — but it also wears him down a lot faster than backs with more finesse running styles. Now Murray doesn’t need to change his style completely, but darting out of bounds to avoid an unnecessary hit and learning to run through defenders instead of into them is the key.
Think of those karate guys who punch, head-butt and kick through wood, bricks and other hard stuff that could really hurt them. Ask them how they do it, and they’ll say they punch/head-butt/kick through the substance instead of into it. This may sound silly to the ignorant of the sport, but it makes a huge difference in results and injury.
Once Murray is able to stay on the field, the Cowboys should become a more balanced team, especially considering offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Callahan will be calling the plays this year instead of trigger-happy head coach Jason Garrett. Dallas went on a winning streak after Murray’s explosion in 2011 and Dallas could easily play that way for a full season if the play-calling remains consistent and distractions remain minimal. But this is the Cowboys, so neither of those things are likely. However, if Murray can get healthy and learn to stay healthy, Dallas will have its best chance at overcoming mediocrity once and for all in the Tony Romo era.