It has often been said the past three seasons that the Dallas Cowboys have a three-headed monster at running back. Having bought into that myself until 2009, I now argue against that naïve assertion.
There is no monster in the Dallas backfield. At least since 2002. That was almost a decade ago.
It is time for this to stop.
In over 50 years of illustrious history, the Cowboys have possessed two of the top running backs ever to play the game. This includes the best ever—Emmitt Smith. He resides as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Smith also leads the league in rushing touchdowns.
For a franchise that has seen both success and failure, it is no accident that the most successful years have included strong runners in the Dallas backfield.
We can include the likes of Duane Thomas, Walt Garrison, Don Perkins and others, but the franchise has been at its best when there truly was a monster in the backfield. One that opposing defenses had to build their attack around, if they even could.
I had a friend tell me recently that the Cowboys do not need a franchise runner because that is “too old school.” I pointed out the current state of the U.S. education system, across the board, and easily pointed out that old school is, without question, better than “new school” if you will.
The prevailing theory is that Marion Barber will not be back for his seventh season in 2011.
The same could also be true of Tashard Choice, a quality runner who is heading into his fourth year.
Choice has never really cemented a spot in the Dallas offense, at least if you take away his engraved position as quarterback in the “wildcat” formation, which generally gets somewhere between 1 to 3 yards per game at best.
Assuming Barber and Choice do not return, that leaves Felix Jones as the only proven runner in Dallas' backfield.
That will not work.
Jones is an explosive player who reminds me in some ways of Brian Westbrook, who for years played for the Philadelphia Eagles as a back who was much more dangerous as a pass catcher.
Like Jones, Westbrook was not a guy who was going to carry the ball 20-plus times per game, but would probably touch the ball that many times.
This philosophy is one of the main reasons Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid does not have a Super Bowl.
Don’t get me wrong, Jones does have a future role with the Cowboys. But one cannot ignore his injury history along with his strengths and conclude that he is the same kind of every-down back that the Cowboys, and other teams, have been so successful with over the years.
I have the Cowboys selecting defensive end Robert Quinn out of North Carolina, despite his issues with the NCAA. The same kind of problems didn’t hinder wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys' first selection in the 2010 draft, and the same will likely hold true for Quinn.
But so long as I knew Dallas would finally plug the middle of this undersized 3-4 defensive front with a true nose guard, I would pass on Quinn knowing that this move would certainly launch both Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer as playmakers.
Enter Alabama running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
To watch Ingram run is almost like watching a young Emmitt Smith, but without the Florida blue and orange. An obvious comparison is drawn by the fact that Ingram sports the No. 22 on his jersey, which will always remind even the most distant of Cowboys fans of Smith.
More compelling than just the numbers is how Ingram runs.
He has quickness. He has power. He has vision. He has everything.
Ingram would not only offer insurance against Jones’ potential missed time due to injury but would represent an upgrade overall. Ingram takes over games and would allow Jones to revert to his customary role of backup RB. Remember that Jones sat behind Darren McFadden at Arkansas, so there is no real argument to make Jones the undisputed starter.
The Cowboys made the mistake of making Barber their starting runner after his third season of high productivity. This was not a tragic mistake, but it was not the best call.
One could have imagined that Barber, lacking any kind of elusiveness, was eventually going to slow down due to the excessive contact he gets, especially below the waste. Well, the Cowboys are at that point.
It is time for the Cowboys to turn to a franchise running back again. Picking ninth overall in the first round, they should be in perfect position to get a new No. 22 in Ingram.