Commentary

Garrett confident in Felix Jones' ability

Coach believes RB can handle bulk of carries after emerging as starter down the stretch

Updated: April 15, 2011, 12:46 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

There is this perception that Jason Garrett doesn't want to run the football.

He does.

The issue for the Dallas Cowboys is when they do run the football, who should get the bulk of the carries?

Marion Barber had been the starter since 2007, but Felix Jones emerged as the starter down the stretch last season.

Jones started the last five games of the 2010 regular season and Barber, after recovering from a calf injury, didn't return to the starting lineup. He was a backup to Jones and saw limited action upon his return.

Garrett wouldn't say who the starter will be for 2011, but he believes Jones can deal with the heavy load of a lead running back.

"I thought he did a really good job handling the workload, and that's something that a lot of guys can grow into," Garrett said. "We talked about how young some of these guys are coming out of college and a guy like that continues to develop into his body, and [he's] able to take the pounding and punishment of the NFL that's required for his position. I thought he handled that well."

Barber it would seem will not be in Dallas in 2011. He's never rushed for 1,000 yards and his days of knocking defenders down to get extra yards appear to be over. In 2007, Barber led the NFL with 29 broken tackles with just 204 carries. Those numbers have steadily declined. Last season, Barber had only four broken tackles on 113 carries, according to Stats Inc.

Based on that statistical analysis, Barber is wearing down.

"I don't know if that's a fair character assessment," Garrett said when asked if Barber has worn down due to the physical pounding.

When asked why Barber has slowed down, Garrett said, "We need to run the ball better. He's the runner and he's the guy that has the statistics behind it. We need to run it better just like we need to throw it better, and a lot of times the individual players will have statistics that go with them that reflects how well or how poorly we're doing in a particular area. Marion can get better as a football player, there's no question about that. But we can get better as a team."

But if you look at the NFL, a large percentage of teams pass in order to succeed.

According to ESPN's Stats & Information, 2010 playoff teams passed 58.9 percent of the time. The defending champion Green Bay Packers threw the ball 62.7 percent of the time. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers, traditionally a run-oriented team, passed the ball at a 56.5 percent rate when they won the Super Bowl in 2008.

Garrett is a pass-first type of playcaller, and there's nothing wrong with that. But when he does call running plays, you would hope they're successful enough to move the offense down the field.

Jones could be the man to lead the rushing attack. In the last five games of the 2010 season, Jones rushed for 352 yards -- 12th among running backs during that span -- and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, 14th among backs. But it should also be noted that Jones scored just one rushing touchdown.

Now to the mailbag with about two weeks to go before the draft.

Q: Everyone wants [Marc] Colombo out, but why is [Leonard] Davis getting a free pass? It is not justifiable to keep him because of salary cap reasons. This is how you fix the O-line. Move down in the draft and pick up Derek Sherrod and with the extra pick [grab] center Stefen Wisniewski. Then move [Andre] Gurode to left guard. I never like the fact that he needs help to make the line calls, and re-sign [Kyle] Kosier to play right guard to help out our rookie right tackle and center. -- Roberto Zamora (Brownsville, Texas)

A: Roberto, here's the deal. Colombo is owed $2.6 million in an option bonus when the new league year starts and he's not worth that right now, especially with health being a concern. When it comes to Davis: Is he athletic enough to play guard? Nope. But he's better suited to play there at this stage than say Montrae Holland. Kosier is a free agent and he's 32. Don't you want get younger at that position on the left side? You can't replace everybody, and if you can get a young, 20-year-old tackle like Tyron Smith, you should do it.

Q: My football team, the Dallas Cowboys, have to win a Super Bowl soon. What is our best chance and main strategy to win the Super Bowl in 2011? -- Samuel Pratt (North Zulch, Texas)

A: Can't say I've been to North Zulch, Texas. Samuel, the Cowboys are not a Super Bowl contender this season. They have too many holes to fill and some of their main players are getting older. Dallas needs to find some playmakers in the secondary; not sure if Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman can rebound from last season's disappointments. The inside linebackers are getting older and the team needs to find a proven pass rusher to help DeMarcus Ware. The schedule is pretty daunting with games at the New York Jets and New England Patriots. This will be a difficult season for Garrett, and I'm not sure if the team will be an above .500 club.

Q: Any ruminative word on how [Rob] Ryan feels about his defensive personnel and how it will affect the draft? I'm still finding it hard to believe that two years ago we had one of the best defenses and now we have "huge holes" to fill. -- PJO (Tucson, Ariz.)

A: Yeah, the defense was pretty good a few years ago, but to say it was one of the best in the NFL would be a stretch. The defensive players got older -- at inside linebacker mainly -- and injuries to the secondary (Terence Newman) and poor play from the safeties hurt this unit. Several players underachieved last season, from Anthony Spencer to Mike Jenkins to Gerald Sensabaugh, and poor play from Alan Ball and the lack of quality depth bothered the Cowboys. This unit gave up a franchise-record 436 points last season because the pass rush was lacking and because of poor secondary play.

Q: In regards to your column about the 10 Cowboys that "need a new home," how is Terence Newman not at the top of your list? Seriously, Calvin? -- Jake (Dallas)

A: I don't believe Newman was as bad as you think. He played nicked up for a bulk of the season and that hampered his ability to make plays. One thing about replacing people is that you have to find quality alternatives -- and while some of you like the corner from Nebraska, Tyron Smith is a better choice at No. 9.

Q: The mock drafts keep showing the Cowboys taking a cornerback or offensive lineman. Why don't they take Von Miller with the No. 9 pick? After that do you think Jerry [Jones] would go after Michael Huff to upgrade the safety spot? -- Anthony (Fort Worth, Texas)

A: In early February, Miller was projected as a mid-first-round pick. After the Senior Bowl, everything changed and Miller is now a top-five pick. He will be gone when the Cowboys pick at No. 9. Should the Cowboys move up to get him? I think you need a new tackle before you need a speed rusher. Huff is a pretty good player, but I don't believe the Cowboys will be huge players in free agency again. Jerry Jones has said he would like to re-sign Sensabaugh for the strong safety spot. If the team can find a free safety in the draft, then do that.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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