One thing will be interesting to see this year is how the Cowboys deploy Felix Jones. Clearly they underutilized him last season, which may have led to his hammy pull (after which he messed up his toe and missed the season).
This year, the Cowboys plan on starting MBIII again, spelling him with Felix after the defense is used to MBIII's (lesser) speed.
I think this is a mistake. If Barber were truly a guy who beat up teams, ala Brandon Jacobs, I could more easily see the value of saving the speed guy until the defense was tired. But I don't think MBIII is that guy. Sure, he runs very hard, and bangs guys. But if they are fresh, he isn't so big that he's going to win most of those early head butts. (He's 6 ft. 222. FJ is 6 ft., 218.) When they are tired, he's a load to tackle, but not so much when they are fresh. I think the "proof" is in the much lower YPC totals he posted as a starter v. as a finisher. (4.8 in 2007 v. 3.7 in 2008). (Sure, some of this should be chalked up to Kyle Kosier's injury.)
Felix Jones, on the other hand, is to me the best RB the Cowboys have, and by a pretty good margin. On any given play, he has the chance to take it to the house. He had the longest run from scrimmage last season on only 30 carries, and consistently had long runs despite only a few chances per game. He has the longest pass play this pre-season, a little dump off he turned into a 42-yard romp by blowing by 3 guys who thought they had him boxed in.
By starting Jones, the Cowboys are more likely to give him the most carries, which he should have. He's going to win the YPC race, I think pretty easily, no matter how many carries you give him. And it's not as if he's can't be durable enough. He's 6 feet, 218, just 4 lbs less than MBIII at the same height. Chris Johnson, who is 5'11" 200, got 250 carries last year for the Titans.
Jones is also likely to force defenses to adjust to start games more than MBIII will. I think teams think they can stop Barber early with their standard defense. He doesn't have the speed to burn them long, and hasn't proven he can run, run, run down the field early in games. So they don't have to stack the box. Deeper safeties will help cut off the Cowboys' passing game, both to WRs and to the talented TEs.
Putting Jones in the game to start forces more of a problem. You almost have to stack the box to keep him penned in, b/c if he gets into space he'll kill you. But this will open up better deep passing opptys, esp. off play action. And, the Cowboys will more likely gain yardage when they do run b/c Jones is scary good when he gets to the edge, but that means the area between the tackles should also be open as defenses have to cover the field side-to-side. Don't think Felix Jones can't run between the tackles. He can, and against a spread D with safeties up, it won't take a huge hole for him to threaten some home runs that way as well.
I would use MBIII on short yardage, near the end zone, when we have a lead, and as a closer when defenses are too tired to handle his style of running. Those are the places where MBIII excels. I don't see him as that far above average as a starting tailback in the beginning of games.
If you ignored the contracts, which the Cowboys should do, I think starting Jones is the best plan. MBIII played best when he backed up Julius Jones. It's time to return him to that role. He'll stay fresh and healthy that way too.
Of course, that leaves Tashard Choice, who is good enough to start himself, as he proved last year against Pitt and Baltimore. Problem for him is he's not better than Felix Jones. And he's not the same banger as MBIII is. What he can do, though, is keep both of those guys as fresh as possible, so maybe we can win some December games for a change. I would use Choice extensively whenever we have a significant lead. I would also use him to spell both Jones and MBIII if they are looking at all tired or have sustained any type of injury. I would also phase him in more as the season wears on and Jones' and MBIII's carries accumulate.
When you think of historic Cowboys running backs, the guy I would liken Felix Jones most to is Tony Dorsett. I'm not sure we've had that kind of speed at RB since Dorsett. Of course, Dorsett was a lot smaller than Felix, at 5'11" 192. Yet he was more than able to run between the tackles.
Love to read your comments.