Cowboys Must Protect 'Marion the Barbarian'

The team invested in its ruffian running back and must now find a way to protect him

Like Earl Campbell in the past and Shaun Alexander in the present, Barber will break down, burn out or both.

As did the NFL's all-time leading rusher, he has to pick his spots. "I think he spends a lot of energy that may not be necessary," says former Cowboy Emmitt Smith, whose largest contract was for eight years, $48 million in '96. "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. If Marion has to carry the load for four quarters, there's no way he can handle it."

Because Barber has no governor on his accelerator, this conservation is Phillips' responsibility.

To survive as the Cowboys' starter, Marion Barber may need to cut back on his punishing running style.
Streeter Lecka
To survive as the Cowboys' starter, Marion Barber may need to cut back on his punishing running style.

The coach must realize that in three NFL seasons, Barber has carried 15-plus times in only eight games. Asking him to suddenly tote it 19 games in one season is unrealistic. And, because of his scrotum-on-fire style, Barber is the rare, elite back who doesn't get stronger as the game wears on. On carries No. 16 and beyond as a Cowboy, he has averaged only 3.2 yards compared to 5.2 on Nos. 1-15. In his lone start, against the Giants in January, he rushed 27 times for 129 yards—but only 11 for 28 after halftime.

Barber will require some discretion to balance his valor, and, at times, a substitute. Calvin Hill had Robert Newhouse. Dorsett had Ron Springs. Smith had Sherman Williams. Barber needs Felix Jones.

The toned-down transformation is entirely possible—long as he applies the same approach he has with cameras to cornerbacks.

Nuisance: "How are you going to deal with more media coverage?"

Barber: "With more avoidance."

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