Meet A Rejuvenated Julius

return, and that his play is arguing for snaps, too. And don't you know Jones realizes he's in the final year of his four-year contract, and that this might be the most important season in his NFL career.

Play, well, and score big when it comes to $$$. Don't, and you're just another guy out on the free-agent market just hoping to latch on somewhere.

If proof is needed, Jones needs to prove himself - this year.

"It's not another year," Jones said, emphasizing how important 2007 is to him. "I want to stay here and play for the Cowboys. I've got to prove to them that I'm worthy enough to be here and they don't need anybody else except for the crew that we have. That's what I'm trying to do."

Jones is not naïve. He knows the Cowboys, with two first-round draft choices in 2008, would be in position to take the running back of their choice if they so desire. He hears the talk, reads the stories.

But deep down, he still does not think he's gotten a fair shake here, and for whatever reason. First, the reason was injury, and right off the bat his rookie year. Second, the reason was injury, never really recovering from a high ankle sprain midway through the 2005 season.

And then last year, the reason mainly was Parcells, who was trying to protect Jones as much as he could so the third-year back could make it through an entire season healthy. That was accomplished, but at the expense of Jones' pride, having to watch Barber play all those critical downs, and especially inside the red zone.

Jones, who did rush for 1,084 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry, only scored four touchdowns. All but one was from at least 14 yards out - two from 23 and 77. Leaving the ball at the 3-yard line was good for the Cowboys but bad for his ego.

"More motivation for me now not to get tackled at the 5," Jones said.

So respectful, but with Parcells' heavy-handed coaching methods gone seemingly more at ease, willing to be himself - reveal himself.

"I'm happy," Jones said, pointing out he feels he has the respect of his coaches. "You know where you stand. I enjoy being here. Enjoy the coaches. I can play free, and don't have to worry about things I worried about before.

"Just to be appreciated."

Now whether having a lighter soul translates into his performance on the field, we'll have to see. While 2006 was good, he wants more opportunity - more responsibility - and realizes those come with increased production. He knows now this is on him, but does not seem to be wilting under the burden, or the pressure he's put on himself by being so outspoken about how he felt Parcells had turned him into a robotic runner.

Saying he was running for his NFL career this season would not be trite.

But he's OK with that, not defensive in the least bit. And he almost seems appreciative when someone says it's obvious he's having more fun this summer.

He smiles. His eyes beam. His head is held high.

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