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Keeping the Dallas running backs happy

8/16/2010

OXNARD, Calif. -- While reporters raced toward Cowboys offensive line coach Hudson Houck on Sunday seeking comment on Marc Colombo's knee injury, I took the opportunity to catch up with running backs czar Skip Peete. His kid brother, Rodney, is more of a household NFL name, but Skip carved out a nice reputation in the league while supervising talented Raiders backs such as Napoleon Kaufman, Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley and Justin Fargas.

He was rotating three running backs in Oakland before that sort of thing became fashionable around the league. Now he's doing the same with the Cowboys' talented trio of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. And if you stop by training camp in the next two weeks, take a peek at Peete's Five Fingers "coaching" shoes.

On Sunday afternoon, Peete told me that he wasn't overly concerned about the lack of production in the running game in the preseason game against the Raiders, because the Cowboys "didn't scheme for what the defense is doing."

He thinks the running game is on pace to be better than '09, and a big part of that is the offseason work of Barber and Jones. Barber dropped 10 pounds and looks much more elusive. Jones has added at least five pounds and hasn't lost any speed.

Here's the column I wrote about Barber in June. At that point, Peete was trying to convince him that it's OK to give up on a run every now and then. He believes that Barber has absorbed more punishment than necessary because of his bruising mentality. Peete told me Sunday that the next step for the Cowboys' backs is "turning 10-yard runs into 50-yarders." He believes that Jones can become even more of a home-run threat.

Peete also enjoys the psychological aspect of his job. He reminds his backs that the team always comes before their individual success, and for the most part, they've bought into that philosophy. Of the three backs, Choice has the most reason to feel frustration. He's talented enough to start for some teams in the league, but he's fortunate if he gets five carries in a game for the Cowboys. Peete said the fact that all three backs had to share carries in college makes his job a little easier. Choice had to play second fiddle to Adrian Peterson before transferring to Georgia Tech. Barber split time with Laurence Maroney at Minnesota, and Jones was overshadowed at times by Darren McFadden at Arkansas.

"Everyone has a role in this system, and they all need to occupy that role," said Peete. "That will make us all successful. But I certainly know that most backs want to have a full-time role at the end of the day. We just make sure the communication is there."

Peete also gave me some great insight on what Mike Shanahan looks for in running backs -- other than advanced age. I'll roll that out at some point this week. In other news, the Beast will react to the "huge" Giants-Jets matchup soon after it ends. After the final whistle, please start hitting "refresh" every 5-10 seconds. Thanks for your continued support. Our West Coast bureau has really been given a nice reception here at Cowboys camp.