Barber not expected to have any trouble adjusting to starter's role

IRVING, Texas -- Marion Barber holds up his left arm and points at his wrist, absent a watch, as a way to indicate that he doesn't have time to talk. He then leaves the locker room.

The running back known as "Marion the Barbarian" because of his hard-charging, take-on-anybody approach on the field remains an elusive interview subject off of it despite his new role as a starter for the Dallas Cowboys.

What the Cowboys don't expect Barber to change is the bruising running style that made him a Pro Bowl selection without starting a regular-season game last year, a short-yardage scoring specialist the past two years and the NFL's leading rusher in the fourth quarter of games.

"If he didn't run that way he wouldn't be the kind of back he is," coach Wade Phillips said. "He's been able to run that way and not be banged up, and I think he will continue that."

In his only extensive action of the preseason, Barber had 13 carries for 75 yards and a touchdown in the first half last week against Houston.

But Barber and the rest of the Dallas starters won't play much, if at all, Thursday night in the final preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings that will basically be a glorified tryout game for both teams.

Phillips, without saying which starters would play, acknowledged that he mostly will be looking mostly at players who aren't sure bets to make the team -- "We need to play them enough that we have a feeling for if they can play and if they can contribute or not." Two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo said he won't play.

Vikings coach Brad Childress doesn't plan to play his starters on offense and defense, including quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and his top backup, Gus Frerotte.

Barber became the clear-cut No. 1 back when Julius Jones left for Seattle in free agency, the Cowboys making no attempt to keep their former top draft pick. Barber then got a $45 million, seven-year deal that made him one of the league's top-paid runners.

"It will be interesting to see what he can do for four quarters," Terrell Owens said.

The Cowboys got a glimpse in the playoffs last season, when Barber started and rushed 27 times for a career-best 129 yards and a touchdown in the NFC Divisional loss to the New York Giants.

"I think he showed the world that he's capable of being an every-down back," Owens said. "Anything extra you get out of Barber, it may shock the world."

Barber made only three starts his first two seasons, the first start coming as a rookie in 2005, when he ran 27 times for 127 yards filling in for an injured Jones.

Over the past two regular seasons, Barber scored 28 touchdowns (24 rushing, four receiving). He ran for 975 yards and 10 TDs last season, along with 44 catches for 282 yards and two scores, and was voted to the Pro Bowl before his playoff start.

2007 Statistics:
Carries: 204

Rushing yards: 975

Touchdowns: 10

Barber rushed for an NFL-high 402 yards in the fourth quarter last season, according to Stats, Inc., and gained 603 of his yards after halftime. Over the past two seasons, his 13 rushing TDs from inside the 10-yard line are the most in the NFC.

"You know what you're getting out of him every play," tight end Jason Witten said.

But now Barber will be the first option for the Cowboys, and not the bullish runner always coming in fresh later in games.

"He's looking forward to this challenge," Witten said. "The spark he gives, I didn't think he'd be able to give us that as a starter just because you play that role, you come in that second series, it's something special. But he does it as a starter. I think he's going to be a big part of what we're doing."

Notes: With Romo out, Richard Bartel, a practice squad member last season when the Cowboys kept only two quarterbacks, is expected to start and play extensively. Brad Johnson is Romo's primary backup. ... Rookie John David Booty, the fifth-round pick from USC trying to become the Vikings' No. 3 quarterback, will get another chance Thursday night. He had a passer rating of 32.5 his first three preseason appearances. "Hopefully I'll get some quality time in and try to make an impression with this team. That's what I'm trying to do -- move the ball down the field as best we can and not have any mental mistakes," Booty said. He's competing with veteran backup Brooks Bollinger.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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