Carrying the Load: Is Maurice Jones Drew this year's Marion Barber?

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Carrying the Load: Is Maurice Jones Drew this year's Marion Barber?
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

He just needed his chance.

He just needed more carries.

He showed amazing ability, in a limited role, and has the pass catching abilities to be an outstanding, all-around featured running back.

And then, he finally got it. The chance to start. The chance to takeover.

What's written above can easily apply to Marion Barber's 2008 season, in which the departure of Julius Jones resulted in MBIII receiving the No. 1 running back tag in Dallas. In other words, an opportunity to carry the load, and draw closer to 300 carries than 200.

What's written can also apply, however, to Maurice Jones-Drew's upcoming 2009 season, in which the departure of Fred Taylor has resulted in MJD receiving the No. 1 running back tag in Jacksonville.

Do not adjust your monitor. I know this column is starting to sound a tad repetitive.

Honestly though, Barber and Jones-Drew are certainly cut from a similar cloth when it comes to their respective NFL careers. Undersized in stature, yet powerful in size, both players were drafted to become backups, albeit vital ones.

Despite scrapping for third downs and the occasional every down drive, Barber and Jones-Drew established themselves early as touchdown machines.

After scoring five touchdowns in his 2005 rookie year, Barber went on to hit pay dirt 14 and 10 times in the following two seasons, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry, setting up his big transition for 2008. In addition, Barber was continuing to make strides in the passing game, grabbing 44 receptions for 282 yards and two touchdowns in 2007.

Barber's style was defined by his power, as well as his total disregard for hard contact, and landing on his head. He received the nickname "Marion the Barbarian" and quickly became the more popular back in Dallas, even though Jones started every game.

Similarly, Jones-Drew burst onto the scene in Jacksonville as the heir apparent to Taylor, who quickly grew fame on the goal line. MJD scored 13 touchdowns in his 2006 rookie year, averaging a robust 5.7 yards per carry. He followed with nine touchdowns in 2007 and 12 last season, all while never amassing even 200 carries on the year.

Like Barber, Jones-Drew also thrived in the passing game, especially last year when he caught 62 balls for 565 yards and a score.

And like Barber, Jones-Drew received the keys to his team's running game after the starter signed elsewhere. How will MJD fare this year? It only seems right to look at Barber's 2008 results, for the sake of all the comparisons, and of course, for the sake of this article.

Barber was hot out the gate last season, scoring five touchdowns in his first three games, while getting the touches everyone was anticipating he'd receive.

Now most analysts will say his season turned after a Thanksgiving Day toe dislocation, which is true for the most part, since Barber was never the same after the injury. Still, if you look closer, at least at his rushing stats, Barber hit a significant wall from Week Four to Nine.

In those weeks, Barber had only one game where he averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry.

In the end, the injury did him in, limiting Barber to just 13 carries in the final four weeks of the season. After scoring seven touchdowns in the first half of the season, Barber scored just twice after Week Eight.

His finals numbers for the year were respectable (885 rushing yards, seven touchdowns, 417 receiving yards, two touchdowns), but not much different from his career averages. If anything, his 3.7 yards per carry was a career low. All in all, it's hard to say whether the Barber as a featured back experiment worked last season.

What is known; not only is the organization committed to splitting the load with second year RB Felix Jones this season, there is also talk that Jones could start, returning Barber to his role as a dynamic backup. The closer.

What does this mean for Jones-Drew in 2009? He's the face of this article and not much has been said about him.

Well, while the comparisons I've drawn between both players are striking and of relevance, it's important to note that Jones-Drew is not Barber, and his fate as a starter is not sealed. Their styles are similar, but not prototypical. While MBIII attacks more like a tiger, MJD is less aerial. His style, is more like that of a bull, or rather, a freight train.

Still, an increase in carries will definitely affect the way Jones-Drew goes about his mission, and at this point, there is one definite factor for success. Health. If MJD wants to prove he can carry the load, dislocating his toe in November won't help.

Maybe Barber's 2008 season weighs on his mind, and maybe, he hasn't even pondered the thought. Either way, Jones-Drew is getting his chance. It's up to him whether he wants to join the NFL's running back elite, or place the onus on Jaguar rookie RB Rashad Jennings to be his new Fred Taylor.

Something tells me MJD prefers the first scenario.

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