- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

IRVING, Texas (AP) - Give DeMarco Murray an opening to avoid the cameras in the Dallas locker room, and he’ll treat it like a hole over the right side of his offensive line.

The NFL rushing leader is gone.

He’s not yearning for the attention that goes with breaking Emmitt Smith’s franchise record for yards through five weeks, or having a chance Sunday at Super Bowl champion Seattle to join Jim Brown as the only running backs to start a season with six straight 100-yard games.

Was leading pro football in rushing on the bucket list of the former Las Vegas high school standout? He’s not even remotely flustered by the question.

“No. I’m not worried about it,” he says with the same stare he used to have for questions about whether he was prone to injury.

Murray has rolled up 670 yards, 210 more than closest challenger Le’Veon Bell of Pittsburgh, and the most in the league through five games since Jamal Lewis had 742 for Baltimore in 2003.

Coming off his first Pro Bowl, Murray found this suddenly dominant form with the same no-frills approach that was a little more physical than the Cowboys envisioned when drafting him in the third round out of Oklahoma in 2011. He’s staying healthy and benefiting from an offensive line stacked with three first-round picks from the past four drafts.

Here’s the interesting twist. Dallas brought in Scott Linehan to call plays, with a background heavy in quarterbacks and the passing game. Well, now the Cowboys (4-1) are the NFL’s No. 2 rushing team because of a steadfast commitment to it, thanks in part to what Linehan has seen from Murray.

And they’ll get their best test yet against the Seahawks (3-1), who have the league’s top rushing defense.

“There’s a reason why he plays like he does because he doesn’t miss snaps, miss plays in practice,” Linehan said. “He’s mad when you take him out. That’s just his mindset. Taking him out of the game is a hard thing for all of us to do, to be honest with you.”

His fast start this year isn’t the first time Murray has overtaken Smith. He did that in his first game as a featured back his rookie year, breaking Smith’s single-game franchise record with 253 yards.

Seven weeks later, he shattered his right ankle against the New York Giants and missed more games than he played through the middle of the 2012 season, when he battled a foot injury. Even when he was healthy, the big rushing days were hard to come by because the Cowboys frequently leaned on Tony Romo’s arm to try to win games.

Now the question is whether they’re leaning too heavily on Murray. Coming off a career-high 31 carries, his average this year is the same as his career high of 26 coming into the season. That means he’s on pace for more than 400; the franchise record belongs to Smith at 377.

“I’ve always been one to take care of my body,” said Murray, who is set to appear in a career-best 14th straight game. “Some things are out of your control, but just try to do some preliminary things, make sure your body is fresh, make sure you’re ready to come to work every day and work hard.”

Essentially, that workmanlike approach is how Murray earned the trust of coaches and teammates. It’s why he keeps getting the ball despite an uncharacteristic rash of fumbles that has coincided with his dominant start. He has a first-quarter fumble in four of the five games.

Each time Murray fumbled, coach Jason Garrett sent him back out. And each time, Murray responded with a 100-yard game, most recently against Houston when he grinded out 136 yards with just three carries of 10 yards or more. He also had 56 yards receiving.

“He’s a tough, physical football player, and they force him to be tough,” Garrett said. “A lot of examples of him getting hit by a lot of different guys during a run. He’s always kind of fighting forward and always finishing north and south and downhill on these guys - a real tribute to him.”

Another tribute to Murray is the way his approach has endeared him to nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten, who has missed just one game in 12 seasons. Witten likes it when a young player “keeps his mouth shut,” and he’s sure Murray’s fast start will only make him more determined.

“That’s what I look for in a young player who has success,” Witten said. “What are the expectations as they do have success? Do they continue to rise? That’s definitely been the case for him.”

Murray can’t get any higher on the NFL rushing list right now.

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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

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