Peete's plan helps Cowboys produce
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys ' three talented running backs have put their egos in check when it comes to playing time.
How can this be? It helps that running backs coach Skip Peete experienced a similar situation with the Oakland Raiders.
At the start of this season, Peete told the running backs what their roles would be. In case of an injury, the roles would change, but once that person or persons recovered, the Cowboys would revert to the original plan.
The plan has worked. The Cowboys have the fourth-best rushing attack in the NFL heading into Sunday's game against Seattle.
Marion Barber, the starter, leads the team in carries (72), yards (344) and touchdowns (three). Barber is supposed to get the bulk of the carries -- and does -- when he is healthy. But a thigh bruise sustained in Week 2 against the New York Giants slowed that plan.
Barber, the banger of the trio, is expected to seal a game in the fourth quarter. In last week's victory over the Atlanta Falcons, he rushed seven times for 26 yards, and the Cowboys dominated time of possession, 9:45 to 5:15, in the fourth quarter.
"That's part of his job as a running back," fellow back Tashard Choice said. "You have to make plays and get your team out of bad situations. When the game is in your hands, you have to make first downs at the end of the game."
Felix Jones is the backup who leads the backs in rushing average at 8.6 yards per carry. He's the speedster of the group who has the ability to make defenders miss in space, and his breakaway speed gives him an edge over most defenders if he gets free.
Like Barber, Jones' status was slowed by a ligament strain in his left knee suffered in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers.
"If they put me out there by myself, against 11 guys, you think people would be excited about me out there?" Jones asked. "No, it's a team effort, and that's what I love about this organization. We're so committed [to] the team and all of what we're doing."
Choice is the third-down back who's a combination of Barber and Jones.
He has deceptive speed and is physical. Choice averages 5.1 yards per carry and has scored two touchdowns, including a 36-yarder. He also hasn't been injured this season.
Peete saw Choice at Georgia Tech as a back who quietly racked up 100 yards in a game. That's how efficient he was.
"It's cool," Choice said of being mentioned with the group of Cowboys backs. "First not being mentioned in that trio, then being mentioned to being mentioned and have a role with those guys is great."
Other than Peete's roles plan, the backs' backgrounds are another reason they don't complain over carries.
Barber and Jones shared carries during their respective college careers, a concept that continued when the two arrived in the pros. Choice was underappreciated at Georgia Tech, and he's developed a chip on his shoulder.
"Yeah, we've been overlooked, all three of us," Choice said. "That's what is motivation for us, I think that's what it is to be hungry."
Peete remembered his time as the running backs coach in Oakland, from 1998-2006, when he juggled several players. At one time, he said he had at least five or six backs active for a game. The Raiders had every-down backs, a third-down back, red zone backs and short-yardage backs. From 2000-05, the Raiders had four different running backs lead the team in rushing.
Peete dealt with egos in Oakland. In 2005, LaMont Jordan, who led the team in rushing with 1,025 yards, complained about his touches. Peete told him to relax because he also caught 70 passes for 563 yards that year, which is pretty good for a running back.
In Dallas, the Cowboys also throw to their backs, but there are no complaints.
"The thing that makes them nice and unique is they're all capable of playing every down," Peete said. "That's the key. A lot of guys don't have that luxury of three guys like that, maybe one or two but not all three of them playing."
Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.