They say it's the speed of the NFL game that shocks most rookies, but for Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, it was the sounds. Not the cacophony so ubiquitous at any football game— the roar of the crowd, the clicking of the camera, the man across the line talking about your momma.
It was the play call in the huddle, rather, that had Murray scratching his head, as he told Bleacher Report:
The hardest thing to adjust to was the terminology. I come from Oklahoma and I was so comfortable with that offense and the terminology that we used. When I got (to the Cowboys), it was like speaking Spanish. It was definitely a whirlwind for me throughout the camp. I (hadn't been) in the huddle, only in the meeting rooms. And they say it so much slower than (quarterback Tony) Romo does.
It's boom, boom, boom, boom, and you have to figure out, 'Hey, I've got this guy, I've got that guy.' He might kill a play—sometimes we call two plays—and you have to have your second read. Sometimes you have to make your second read before your first.
Find Something to Fuel You
If it sounds confusing, that's because it is. Most NFL teams have playbooks that even men who can bench-press a fuel efficient car can't carry in one hand. Mastery of a complicated system like the Cowboys' takes time—time and repetitions.
Like many other NFL rookies used to playing all game, every game, reps were suddenly hard to come by. It was a weird time for Murray, who started the year as the team's third-string back, an unfamiliar place for an athlete who had been a mega-star since his days at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas—the kind of player who rushed for more than 200 yards in his first game at OU.
But third-round picks don't always walk right into NFL jobs. They earn them. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice were proven commodities. So Murray waited for his chance, fueled in equal parts by ambition and revenge. Five backs went before him in the 2011 NFL draft. In his mind, those were five mistakes, and he intended to prove it.
For me, going in the third round, having those other guys picked before me, I definitely had that stick in the back of my mind. Every time I stepped out on the field, I always carried a chip on my shoulder. That's what helps me. That's why I play the hardest. That's where my game comes from.
Be Ready When Your Number is Called
When Murray finally got his chance, after Jones went out with a high ankle sprain in Week 6, he did his best to Wally Pipp the former Arkansas star. Murray's stat sheet in Week 7 against the St. Louis Rams required a double take. He had 25 carries, 253 yards and a new spot in the starting lineup, although that last tidbit required you to read between the lines.
"It was a total team effort," Murray said, not reading from a script, but hitting all the comfortable notes a star back learns to play early in his career. "I knew I was going to have some success. To that degree? I had no idea. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities, as well as my teammates. It was a great day for us all."
A great day for the team? Yes. But it was Murray's face attached to a highlight-friendly 91-yard touchdown. It was Murray who was named the FedEx Ground Player of the Week. And it was Murray, whose rushing total was the 10th-highest single-game output in NFL history, who found himself in a unique fraternity.
Act Like You've Been There
Emmitt Smith, whose Cowboy record Murray broke, called. So did Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. It would have been easy to let the success go to his head. Instead, Murray went back to the scout team.
"Letting them know," Murray said. "I've been here before. Success isn't anything new to me. I want to keep working hard. Keep grinding. There's more to come."
Murray showed his Week 7 jaunt into the Cowboys' record book was no fluke. He averaged more than seven yards a carry in his next two games, broke the 100-yard barrier again and was on pace for a 1,000-yard season when disaster struck in Week 14.
Be Ready for the Worst
It happened in the first quarter of a game with the New York Giants. Murray had just gone to the right side for eight yards when he was brought down by backup defensive end Dave Tollefson, who landed with all 260 of his tattooed pounds on Murray's ankles. It was his last run of his season.
I've sprained my ankle numerous times. I knew right away it was more than a regular sprain. When I tried to get up I was nervous, like, 'Oh man,' When I couldn't get up, I told them, 'There's something wrong with this. This isn't usual.' We went in and did the X-rays, saw the damage. It was heartbreaking. For me, it was hard seeing my guys out there and not be able to fight with them.
How will Murray's 2012 campaign play out?
Never Be Content
Heading into his second campaign, Murray faces a new set of challenges. Bill Callahan, the newly hired offensive coordinator, is sure to incorporate Murray more heavily in the passing game. Teams that last year were content to let Murray run free, choosing instead to focus on stopping Romo and the passing game, will show him more respect.
Nothing will come easy. In the NFL, it never does. For Murray, last season doesn't even exist. That success is in the past. The NFL is a league that lives in the now. What have you done for me lately? That's a question Murray and every NFL star will be asked daily for their entire careers.
"You have to work hard every day," Murray said, sounding like the grizzled veteran he isn't yet, but hopes to be. "You can't take anything for granted. Live in the moment."