Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Sunday, August 21, 2011
Felix Jones' time to be 'the man'

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Felix Jones runs the way he did Sunday night, it's so easy to get seduced by his talent.

The speed. The agility. The quickness. The power. The toughness.

It was all on display against the San Diego Chargers in a performance that should've reminded all of us why the Dallas Cowboys selected him in the first round even though he'd never been a starter.

And, to think, Jones carried only seven times in the Cowboys' 20-7 loss to San Diego at Cowboys Stadium.

Still, he left a lasting impression.

Felix Jones
Felix Jones looked impressive running for 56 yards against San Diego's defense Sunday night.

Jones ripped through San Diego for 56 yards and and 8.0 average per carry against the Chargers, who finished last season ranked No.1 in total defense (271.6 yards per game) and sixth in rushing defense (93.8).

On Jones' longest run, he cut behind a block on the left side, broke a tackle and used his speed to maneuver outside for a 22-yard gain.

His most impressive run of the night gained 11 yards.

Jones shrugged off a tackle five yards deep in the backfield, accelerated through a rapidly closing hole on the right side and powered through a tackle for an 11-yard gain.

We didn't see much of that in 2010.

Let's be honest, Jones couldn't make a fire hydrant miss last season. Maybe it's because he put on about 10 pounds to survive the rigors of a 16-game season, robbing him of the quickness and agility that makes him special.

Perhaps Jones forgot how much effort it took to be an impact player. For now, it's all irrelevant.

Jason Garett raved about Jones after the game. So did Tony Romo. And Jason Witten.

Each mentioned Jones' intense practice habits and his improved blocking, which he displayed in the first quarter when he took out defensive end Corey Liuget, giving Romo time to complete a pass to Witten.

If we're honest, the questions about Jones have never involved talent. The question has always been whether he could be more than a niche back, considering he's carried the ball more than 20 times in a game just once.

And it doesn't help that Dallas passed on quality runners such as Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Baltimore's Ray Rice and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles to pick Jones.

He's judged against those players weekly. It's not fair, but that's life in the NFL, especially for first-round picks.

Each of those players has already had at least one 1,000-yard season; Jones established a career high with just 800 yards last season.

The Cowboys need much more production from him.

Jones spent much of last season being just a guy. Sure, he had 1,250 yards in total offense and averaged 4.3 yards per carry, but the Cowboys drafted him to make big plays.

He had five runs of 40 yards or more in his first two seasons, but none in 2010.

That said, Jones found a rhythm in the last three games of the regular season, when the Cowboys were playing strictly for pride. He gained 228 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. More important, he looked a lot more like the Jones from his first two seasons.

Jones carried that end-of-the-season momentum into training camp.

The Cowboys need Jones to be the featured runner because a hamstring strain has kept rookie DeMarco Murray from participating in training camp and Tashard Choice's roster spot is tenuous.

No one knows if Jones can do it because being the epicenter of the running game involves more than talent. It's about attitude.

While there's something to be said for a running back subjugating his ego and doing what's best for his team, there's a part of me that would love to see Jones demand the ball.

Not in a selfish public way like Terrell Owens used to demand the ball, but in a respectful, private manner behind closed doors.

We're admittedly spoiled here.

Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith have established the standard. Each demanded the ball. Each wanted every carry and the responsibility that accompanied being "the man."

Jones has the talent. The Cowboys believe he has the intangibles.

It's time for him to prove it.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.