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Can DeMarco Murray survive 400 carries?

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The message is simple, and hasn't changed much over the past decade.

James Saxon, currently the running backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has overseen two of the most rigorous single seasons for ball carriers in NFL history: 2012, when Adrian Peterson had 348 carries for a career-high 2,097 yards (including 22 more in the playoffs) and 2006, when Larry Johnson set the NFL record for most carries ever in one regular season, with 416.

On both occasions, he did not attempt to lighten the road ahead. Both running backs knew they were offensive focal points, a dying breed in a sport that can now win with finesse more than ever. Both received a version of the same talk.

"I used to tell those guys, every time you carry the ball in the NFL, every time, you take one day off your life," Saxon said. "So, you should try to minimize the number of people that tackle you."

He laughed because sometimes that is all you can do. No NFL team begins the season hoping to have a running back with more than 350 attempts, a feat that has occurred fewer than 60 times. Hinging a long-term game plan on those odds would be statistically irresponsible.

Yet, sometimes it just happens, with a string of people crossing their fingers along the way.

Saxon is speaking to add perspective. DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys is on pace for 390 carries, just 26 shy of Johnson's record. He would be the just the second running back in the past decade to crack the top 10. With four cold-weather outdoor games remaining in Dallas' final six, there's a long shot that he could actually break the record. It is highly unlikely that Dallas would be sitting atop the NFC East without him.

Like an increased attention to pitch counts in baseball, touches for running backs are starting to be managed, even if the progress is slow. Workload factors into free agency decisions and even collegiate draft status more than ever, according to several league executives.

That's what makes Murray's 2014 season so intriguing.

"I don't think that anyone would consciously say that that was the direction we were trying to go in," Saxon said of the Chiefs in 2006. "But it's just one of those things that occurs."

* * *

NFL Media's Terrell Davis survived his most grueling season by treating his body the way one might handle the restoration of a sports car. There was an adjustment each day -- a somewhat eccentric process that involved the installation of home equipment and the utilization of more than a half dozen doctors and trainers.

In a recent interview, he detailed what a late-season week might look like (Davis actually has Johnson's record beat if postseason carries are factored in. When playoff carries are added, only Atlanta's Jamal Anderson has more).

Sunday: Postgame ice bath at the facility.

Monday: Ice bath in his Denver-area home, which he had specially installed, appointment with a chiropractor.

Tuesday: Massage from personal in-home masseuse.

Wednesday: Massage at the facility, appointment with bio-mechanic expert.

Thursday/Friday: Acupuncture to take care of the lingering migraines.

Friday/Saturday: A second appointment with a team masseuse.

Sunday: Pregame hot tub.

Back then, the knowledge of player injuries was not as sophisticated as it was now, nor was the popularized theory of a running back platoon. Davis' head coach, Mike Shanahan, had a zone blocking scheme that was corralling defenses into one chunk play after another. There was little reason to deviate.

At season's end in 1998, Derek Loville was the only other running back with significant carries. He had just a few more than John Elway and Bubby Brister.

In short: Davis needed all the help he could get to make it through that year. He is watching Murray with an appreciation that only few backs can understand. In Dallas, there is a similar split between carries. Murray's backup, Joseph Randle, has 29 and Lance Dunbar has 19.

"You really just can't look beyond the next game," Davis said. "If you prepare for the next game as best you can physically, it becomes a season in itself."

* * *

Coming off his bye and heading into a Sunday night matchup against the New York Giants, Murray said he's not going to hesitate down the stretch. Though a myriad of factors are working against him, he intends to keep up the breakneck pace of a league-high 123.3 yards per game.

"I'm ready," Murray said earlier this week, via ESPN Dallas. "Like I've said before, whatever they ask me to do I'm going to do it times 10. It's going to be an exciting next couple of weeks for us."

Of course, Murray has never finished a 16-game season before.

But around him, there exists a fraternity of players and coaches that are curious to see if he can do it; not only finish the season strong but sustain a pace that would leave him as one of the busiest players in recent NFL history.

When asked for advice, Davis recommended a version his non-stop regiment.

"You can't control what happens on the field, but what you can control is how you handle your body before a game and leading up to a game," Davis said. "Make sure you are as close to 100 percent as possible. Whatever you have to do, massages, acupuncture, try them all. Get your body to peak performance."

Saxon was more recognizable of the odds at hand, knowing that it really isn't up to the player at this point.

"You have to be in the right place with the right time," he said.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews Chiefs-Raiders and reacts to the drama in D.C. as well as Adrian Peterson's suspension. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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