DeMarco Murray's beleaguered, short-lived stint with the Philadelphia Eagles last season saw him go from NFL rushing champion to free-agent bust. Now a member of the Tennessee Titans, he is optimistic about his future.
In an interview on The Jim Rome Show that ran Tuesday, the 28-year-old spoke about his experiences over the past two seasons and how he's tried to see the silver linings during the roller-coaster stretch:
It's hard to look back, but it was a great season two years ago and it definitely was a tough one last year. But I think from both seasons, I took some positives things from it and learned and appreciated the game more and appreciated the time you have to play the sport.
Obviously it was tough last year, and I'm just looking for a huge back bounce year this year. I don’t mean it individually but collectively as a team, and we know how hard we have to work to make our goals happen, and it's definitely going to take a lot of hard work.
If Murray was hoping to avoid a backfield logjam like he faced in Philly when he vied with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles for touches, Tennessee dashed those hopes on Day 2 of the 2016 NFL draft.
The Titans selected reigning Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the second round, but the personnel decision didn't discourage Murray. Instead, he's embraced Henry's arrival and even went so far as to praise his work ethic during Tennessee's offseason program:
I feel like it could help the team. When he slid that far in the draft and we were able to get him, I was extremely happy. Obviously we got some other running backs that are going to help the team as well. Just having him and having a guy that's powerful that can get us the short yardage runs and the one-two yard runs when we need it.
If I come out of the game, I'm not looking in there saying who is in the game. I know I can trust him, take a deep breath, take a minute out of the game if I need to. But he's a guy who is a good, young player. He works hard and everyday in OTA's and minicamp he took a step forward and becoming a better pro.
Asked about the Titans offense under coach Mike Mularkey, Murray said: "It's strictly downhill and that's what I've been accustomed to my entire life. [...] I'm very excited about this upcoming season and looking forward to it."
Former second-round pick Bishop Sankey will be in the mix for carries, but he hasn't lived up to his draft billing to date, so it's likely Murray and Henry will take on the vast majority of the workload.
After all, the Titans did trade for Murray this offseason and took on the rest of a five-year, $40 million contract. With that much invested in Murray, the team will give him the chance to be the surefire starter.
Bleacher Report Insider Jason Cole recently reported Murray is slated to be cemented atop the depth chart:
What should also help Murray's cause to bounce back from a 2015 campaign in which he ran for only 702 yards on 3.6 yards per carry is the presence of Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. After a solid rookie year with a 91.5 passer rating and a 7.4 YPC average when he took off to run, Mariota showed his upside as a dynamic, dual-threat field general.
Mariota's unique athleticism and running ability should help open up lanes for Murray and help him get back to the north-and-south style of running that allowed him to excel so well with the Dallas Cowboys.
Having a first-year bruiser like Henry to plug in for short-yardage situations should also keep Murray fresh throughout the 2016 season. Although it's easy to be positive before any significant games are played, Murray's comments seem rooted in reality.
The Titans play in one of the weaker divisions in football, the AFC South, which is open for the taking. If Mariota can take a big step forward and Murray can emulate his 2014 form (1,845 yards rushing), Tennessee could be a surprise team in 2016.