KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 11: Marion Barber #24 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on during warm-up prior to the NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadiumin on October 11, 2009 Kansas City, Missouri. The Cowboys defeated the Chiefs 26-20 in overtime. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
What's to be done with all these running backs?
This has been a popular question for some time now, particularly after the latter half of last season, when Felix Jones summarily out-shined starter Marion Barber. The presence of Tashard Choice, a talented back hitherto unable to find a real niche in Dallas, only complicates the situation further.
At the heart of the debate is a question that the Sporting News recently posed to 11 Super Bowl-winning Dallas Cowboys: Is the team "screwing up" by not featuring one of the three? Six of the Cowboys greats said no; five said yes, reflecting the conflicting opinions concerning the rise of platooning at the position in the NFL.
"Having been a running back myself, it's very difficult to get into a rhythm when you're going in and out," said Dan Reeves. "As a coach, I always had a hard time knowing when to put the other guy in. I do think you need one guy you rely on."
Former receiver Drew Pearson agreed with this assessment. "The Cowboys need to make a decision," he said. "In my opinion, it should be Felix Jones because of his speed and what he can do with the football. To me, with his body (6-0, 222), Marion Barber could play fullback."
Said Tony Hill, simply enough, "Felix Jones reminds me of Tony Dorsett. He needs to be the featured back."
It should be pointed out that each of these three are what we might call "old school" guys. The platoon has been around forever, but is only now becoming the rule rather than the exception, a natural product of the game's evolution. Which may explain why those who are in favor of the platoon feel it is not just beneficial, but necessary.
"Emmitt Smith successfully carried the ball in an era when it was common to see a single back carry the load," said Leon Lett. "I'm not sure if there will ever be another Emmitt Smith. These days, guys are getting banged up too often. The league has evolved. … I certainly think the Cowboys should stick to the approach they have now."
Smith's lead blocker in Dallas, Daryl Johnston, is also in favor of a back-by-committee system.
"It's been tough for me to buy into this new formula," Johnston admits, "but I have because guys now are bigger, stronger, faster. The collisions are just more violent."
The debate comes down, it seems to us, a matter of balance. Platooning is certainly beneficial from a health standpoint, and, in 2010, it may even be necessary. But in the distribution of the work load, defined roles within the platoon must remain lest, as Reeves fears, the backs lose a sense of rhythm.
So where do you fall in the great running back debate of the late-2000s: Platoon or no platoon, old-school or progressive?
Yours in the comments.
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