Articles, NFL, News - Written by Blake on Thursday, June 3, 2010 18:55 - 0 Comments
Cowboys expect even more from running back trio
IRVING, Texas (AP) — Marion Barber is leaner, lighter and quicker. Felix Jones has managed to become more elusive.
And then there’s Tashard Choice, ready as always, his mouth already going full speed.
Together, they’re quite a group — a trio of running backs in their mid-20s, each with a proven track record yet also content being part of a backfield-by-committee for the Dallas Cowboys.
Their job-sharing arrangement worked out so well last season, the club is ready to do it again, or something very close to it.
“Is there going to be competition? Yes,” team owner Jerry Jones said. “But do we have proven players three deep? We do. … So I think you’re going to have competition, but we really feel pretty good that we know what Marion can do, what Felix can do, what Tashard can do.
“The bottom line is, I feel good about our running backs. I like our depth and I really like the way Jason (Garrett, the offensive coordinator) is starting to use them.”
Jerry Jones is hinting that Barber is no longer guaranteed to be the starter who wears down the defense, making Felix Jones seem even faster when he comes in. There’s a chance Jones could become the starter; if so, Dallas’ plan would be to ride his moves and speed to early leads that Barber would then protect with his punishing style.
However it plays out, they are likely to get roughly the same amount of carries, not like the 2-to-1 ratio in Barber’s favor from last year.
Choice will get the majority of whatever carries are left.
While not the bruiser that Barber is, nor the speedster that Jones is, Choice is a solid second in both areas. Throw in his eager demeanor — the way he motivates teammates and enlivens the locker room — and it’s easy to see why the Cowboys have held onto him.
“All I can do is stay working,” said Choice, who has dubbed the trio “Smash, Dash and Tash.”
“Coach told me, ‘You ain’t going nowhere.’ … So I make sure I keep cool. Some people might see I’m frustrated, just because I want to get in there — just to play. I love to play the game, man.”
The Cowboys were seventh in the NFL in rushing last season at 131.4 yards per game. They also were sixth-best in passing. The Super Bowl champion Saints were the only other club making the top 10 in both categories.
What really separated Dallas was efficiency: 4.8 yards per carry. The only team that averaged more was Tennessee, powered by rushing champion Chris Johnson.
While Johnson alone gained 2,006 yards, the Cowboys got 1,966 from Barber, Jones and Choice. They scored 13 touchdowns, and gained another 472 yards on 60 catches.
“They’re smart players, they’re tough players, they’re competitive and the biggest thing we need to do is keep giving them chances in games,” Garrett said. “Sometimes that’s hard to do. You’ll always feel like there’s more that one of the guys can do. But that’s the way it works.”
Barber opened his bid to remain the lead back by showing up weighing 10 pounds less. The difference is evident at first glance.
“He just said he wanted to work on getting his speed back,” running backs coach Skip Peete said. “I think he’s a little quicker now than he was a year ago at this time. He’s got adequate enough speed to make big plays and obviously has the ability to run with power. He’s worked extremely hard this offseason and it’s shown so far.”
Barber was banged up last year, which was part of the reason he wasn’t as successful in the short-yardage situations that had been his specialty. Despite what many considered a down year, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry; that’s the same as Adrian Peterson, albeit with 100 fewer carries.
Jones missed much of his rookie season with injuries, then showed last year what a force he can be when healthy. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and seemed to have at least one breathtaking play every game.
Jerry Jones is counting on more of those this season.
“Felix is way ahead of where he’s been as a receiver,” the owner said. “It’s really been impressive how he’s been running his routes. That has a chance to get ugly (in a good way) if he’s really good at running those routes out of the backfield.”
For all the various talents these guys bring, they also have one thing in common — rarely have they been a featured back. Barber shared the load with Laurence Maroney in college at Minnesota, Jones played behind Darren McFadden at Arkansas and Choice spent a year stuck way behind Peterson at Oklahoma, so he transferred to Georgia Tech.
The humility that comes from such situations is certainly part of the reason this formula works so well.
“When one of them comes out and another goes in the game, they cheer each other on,” Peete said. “It’s not a, ‘I want to get back in there, I need to get back in there.’ They’re excited for each other.
“As long as they push each other and demand they be their best, I think we’ll be all right.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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