Tue Sep 02 04:21pm EDT
When the Dallas Cowboys open the season Sunday in Cleveland, there will be no question about who is the No. 1 running back. No more arguing over a two-back system. Julius Jones is long gone. Hard-charging Marion Barber is the Cowboys' starting running back for the foreseeable future. He signed a six-year contract extension in May. Now comes the hard part. Can the 25-year-old with a bull-headed running style stay healthy enough to become an NFL star?
Legendary Cowboys running backs Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith say they believe Barber has what it takes. His first start last year came against the New York Giants in the playoffs. He posted a career-high 129 yards on 27 carries in the loss. But starting an entire season is different.
Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, said if Barber has to carry the ball for four quarters for the entire year, "There's no way he can handle it."
"I think he spends a lot of energy that may not be necessary," Smith said when he attended Cowboys practice this spring. "For a starting back, I'm all about putting your heart into it, but you're doing a lot of kicking, running up, bucking and you're exerting a lot of energy. We need you for four quarters. And I'm going to say 'we' because I'm a Cowboy, too. We need you for four quarters."
Hall of Famer Dorsett called Barber a diamond in the rough.
"He can make a run that can get the crowd involved here at Texas Stadium and get his teammates revved up as well," Dorsett said. "I like this guy. I like him a whole lot. My only concern is that this is a very physical league. When you take a lot of hits over a period of time, it takes its toll on you. I just hope he becomes a little wiser and smarter about some of the hits he takes."
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