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With Barber hurt, No. 3 RB Choice gets a chance for Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys third-string running back Tashard Choice has spent most of the season wondering why he wasn't playing more.

Now that he's likely headed toward getting some real time Sunday against the Colts, he's gotten some answers, and they weren't what he was hoping to hear.

Team owner Jerry Jones said Choice's reduced role in the offense -- 14 carries in 11 games -- stems from his poor performance on punt and kickoff units.

"Your third back has to be a real contributor on special teams, and he's not," Jones said on his weekly radio show. "That really handicaps him."

Interim coach Jason Garrett added that Choice simply isn't better than the two guys ahead of him, Felix Jones and Marion Barber.

"When he's gotten the bulk of his carries in the past, it's been because Felix or Marion has been hurt," Garrett said. "I think that is the right place for him, given the other guys' strengths."

Now Barber is hurt, dealing with a calf injury that kept him out of practice Monday and Wednesday. So Choice is practicing more and likely to be part of a rotation Sunday with Jones in Indianapolis.

Choice came into this season hoping to be part of a three-man rotation at running back. It sets up great on paper, with Barber a basher, Jones a slasher and Choice capable of playing either style.

Choice demonstrated it as a rookie in 2008. His first career start came against a ferocious Pittsburgh defense, and he had the best performance of any running back against those Steelers, running for 88 yards and gaining another 78 as a receiver.

During his first two seasons, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 8.8 yards per catch. The Cowboys showed they valued him by turning down trade offers.

"He's unique," Jones said. "He really has a lot of the Emmitt (Smith) feel to him when he runs, if he just finds the soft spot. And he's really a heck of a good runner. But there's more to it."

That's what he is learning. The hard way.

Choice went four consecutive games without a carry or a catch. Dallas lost all those games, and its running game was pathetic. Yet as badly as the Cowboys needed a spark on offense, Garrett -- the offensive coordinator throughout Choice's career -- never gave him a chance.

"Everyone wants to know (why), and I can't tell them," Choice said. "I don't like talking about it. Most of the time I avoid the question. ... It's been hard for me to sleep or do anything."

For consolation, he's turned to Derrick Moore, a former NFL player who is the chaplain for Choice's college team, Georgia Tech.

"I've had to talk to him every other day, because if I'm frustrated about something, I don't want it to show here," Choice said. "You can't be selfish. I want to be the best teammate I can be and come out here and practice hard."

He got only one carry in the last game, a loss to New Orleans, but he made the most of it.

On third-and-goal from the 1, Choice burst through the line for a touchdown that put the Cowboys ahead with 5:51 left. It was his first TD of the season, and it came because Barber was injured on the previous play.

"I was just excited to get in there," Choice said.

Choice said Monday he hadn't asked his bosses for an explanation about his reduced role "because it will make me mad." He guessed it mostly had to do with Barber and Jones.

On Wednesday, after hearing the comments from Jones and Garrett, Choice said: "It's best for me not to say anything. I need to be quiet for now."

He knows words aren't going to change his situation.

Only gaining yards -- and making tackles and blocks on special teams -- can do that.

"You prove yourself being able to play," Choice said. "When the opportunity ain't there, there is nothing you really can do. It's hard. ... This year has probably been the worst for me, personally. With that being said, it's still a long football season. The end hasn't been written yet. It's going to be fun coming out here Sunday.

"A lot of my anger and frustration, I've got to get some of it out this game."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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