Friday, October 16, 2009

For Choice, it's all about respect

By Calvin Watkins

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys running back Tashard Choice is a man of principles.
When you disrespect him, he won't forget it.

In the 2008 NFL draft, 10 teams -- including the one who actually picked him the fourth round -- grabbed running backs before Choice.

Choice, like most draft-eligible players, felt he should have been picked higher.
"Always," he said. "I hated draft day. Worst day. I felt like I was overlooked, and a lot of running backs went before me. …

"I felt like I was better than them. Now when we play teams that drafted running backs ahead of me, I'm going to go out there and prove it, and I want to make them pay."
While at Georgia Tech, Choice led the ACC in rushing in 2006 and 2007 -- becoming the first player to do that since 1998-99.

Yet teams overlooked the 5-11 Choice. The Cowboys didn't. Sure, Dallas selected Felix Jones in the first round that year. But with injuries to Jones and starter Marion Barber, the Cowboys have looked to Choice for help the past two seasons.

Last season, injuries forced Choice into the starting lineup against Pittsburgh. He responded by rushing for 88 yards on 23 carries in a loss.

The same thing has happened again this season, as Jones and Barber haven't been able to stay healthy.

Tashard Choice led the ACC in rushing two consecutive seasons while at Georgia Tech, yet he was only a second-team all-conference selection. Said Choice: "That's what's disrespectful to me."

With Barber inactive with a thigh injury, Choice -- who didn't start -- carried 18 times for 82 yards in a victory over Carolina.

In last week's overtime win at Kansas City, Choice -- again in a backup role -- rushed just eight times for a game-high 92 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown run.

Sometimes Choice plays and acts like he's an underdog. "I don't know if he likes to be an underdog," running backs coach Skip Peete said. "He might let [the media] know that, but I think [all three running backs] are capable of being 'the guy' for us. To be successful, we need all of them to be successful."

Choice isn't as fast as Jones or as physical as Barber, but the Cowboys' coaching staff believes he's more complete.

Peete said Choice has the ability to run inside and break tackles. If no holes are available, Choice has the quickness to bounce outside and get down the field.
When Choice comes off the field, he tells Peete what the opposing defense did and how his linemen blocked. Peete said it's like having another coach on the field.

Yet Choice is still in a backup role because the Cowboys think Barber and Jones are better.
If all three backs are healthy, Choice is the third-down guy. But in the first month of the season, Choice has been moved to No. 2 on the depth chart, and has gotten first-team snaps in games. The Cowboys want to keep all three backs as fresh as possible during the season.
So don't be surprised when the starter doesn't get 20 carries in a game.

Choice will tell you he's frustrated he doesn't get more carries or that he doesn't start, but that's just part of the things that fuel him.

In 2006, he was a second-team All-ACC selection despite leading the conference in rushing and finishing 13th nationally.

It's part of this disrespect thing Choice likes to talk about.

It's continued in the NFL. Sports Illustrated called him "Rashard Choice" in a cover story about the Broncos-Cowboys game.

The Cowboys hope he takes that disrespect out on opponents, especially with their other running backs nicked up.

"Sports Illustrated is terrible for that," Choice said. "I don't even care. What I care about is things like leading the ACC in rushing and you're not first-team ACC. That's what's disrespectful to me.

"That's what I took away from those things. It's just motivation to prove people wrong."
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for