Not There Yet

That's not any breaking news. We've known this for a while now.  

Jones was inactive for the first game of 2004 because of a bruised ribs injury he suffered at the end of preseason. When he returned in Week 2, he suffered a broken shoulder blade after enduring a crushing helmet-to-shoulder hit by former Cowboys defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban, who was playing for the Browns at the time. In fact, one Cowboys trainer told me that 10 out of 10 running backs would've broken their shoulder taking a hit like that.  

But Jones came back for the second half of the season and showed all of us why the Cowboys were so high on him. Call it fresh legs or something to prove, Jones was rather spectacular, rushing for 803 yards in seven games, including 198-, 150- and 149-yard performances.  

And we all remember last year. The expectations were even higher, mostly thanks to Jones, who said his goals were to rush for 1,700 yards and score 20 touchdowns.  

Not so much.  

Needless to say, we were all educated more about the lasting effects of a high-ankle sprain, thanks in large part to Jones, who suffered the injury in Week 5. He was never the same again. He had just one 100-yard game, busting out for 194 against the Panthers on Christmas Eve. But Jones said he wasn't even at full speed for that game, not regaining it all back until February.  

So that's why this year, there were no goals. No rushing stats or touchdowns.  

"My number is 16," he said back in training camp. "I want to play 16 games. If I can do that, everything will take care of itself."  

So far, Jones is at five. And yes, the numbers are taking care of themselves.  

But more than just staying healthy, Parcells has complimented Jones on many aspects of his game this year. The coach says he sees a more patient runner. One who is learning to trust his blockers instead of looking to cut back and bounce everything to the outside. He sees a young back learning how to pick up the blitz.  

"I think he's a much different player this year," Parcells said. "He just understands things a lot more. There are things that he already knows that I don't even have to tell him. He just gets it."  

OK, he gets it.  

But does he have "it?"  

And what I learned this week is that "it" goes a little further than just on the playing field. More than just running the ball 20 to 25 times a game.  

Tiki Barber has it. He has everything you need.  

Not only is he a great runner, a great receiver and a great blocker, even from down here in Texas, he looks like a great leader.  

A leader is out there, in front of the team, speaking for the team. Sure, everybody has their own opinion, but sometimes you need that guy to step forward, during the good and the bad, and tell it like it is.  

That's Tiki Barber. Questions came up this week about his future in the game. Barber didn't back down. He was honest, admitting he is "leaning towards" retirement at the end of the season.  

And how do we know that? Well, because he told us. He told us in his conference call on Wednesday. Even with players such as Eli Manning, Michael Strahan and Jeremy Shockey on the Giants, you can bet the reporters all over the nation love getting Tiki Barber on the conference call.  

Man, it would just be nice for us to talk to Julius Jones once this week. Better yet, this month.  

And no, I'm not saying talking to the media makes you a better player or a superstar. Larry Allen did just fine without it.  

But it's not about talking to the media, as it is just being there. Being there with your teammates. Standing up there and facing all the reporters and just answering our questions, as stupid as they might be sometimes.  

Emmitt Smith got it. And Tiki Barber does, too. 

Julius Jones isn't there yet, just like he's not in Barber's class yet as a player.  

But he's not far behind. And considering how their careers have gone so far, the Cowboys and Jones can only hope he continues to follow down the road Barber has taken.                                

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