Dependable, durable, driven

The plan was laid out the moment Tom Coughlin took over as coach of the Giants. He was not going to overwork Tiki Barber. He was going to use a two-headed backfield. They were going to find a way to get Ron Dayne on the field so Barber would be fresher late in the season and in the fourth quarter of every game. <BR><BR>

It didn't take long for the coaching staff to realize that plan was going to have to change.

"He's giving us a shot in the arm in the second half of every game he's been out there," running backs coach Jerald Ingram said recently. "Every game. And he's trying to be a leader by example. He comes over to the offensive linemen. He tells them what he sees, tells them what he needs out of his lineman and he'll take care of the rest. He's trying to be a smart player, OK? When you have that kind of a guy who's doing all that, it's hard to take him off the field."

Actually, it's been nearly impossible for the Giants to take Barber off the field this season because Barber has gotten off to the finest start of his career. Through the bye week he was fifth in the NFL in rushing with 577 yards and first in total yards from scrimmage with 817. And he was so impressive he was nearly 100 yards beyond his closest competitor (LaDainian Tomlinson, 724). And in NFL history, only Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson had ever gained more yards in the first five games.

No wonder he's gotten the ball on 36.3 percent of the Giants' plays through the first five games of the season (115 of 316). He's also accounted for an incredible 44.9 percent of their total yards (817 of 1819). If that keeps up, everyone can keep their old Thunder & Lightning T-shirts in their closet, because Dayne will find it nearly impossible to get on the field.

"The best laid plans, you know?" Barber said. "But I prepared myself this offseason to be contrary to what the plans were. You have to. We'd like to have it a certain way, but the circumstances don't work out all the time."

It hasn't really been circumstances; it's been more about performance. The 5-10, 200-pound Barber has developed into one of the most dependable, durable and valuable backs in the NFL, just one year after he had solidified his reputation as a chronic fumbler. He led the NFL in fumbles dating back to the 2000 season – a stat Coughlin took note of before the Giants even brought him aboard.

In his first meeting with Barber, Coughlin made a now-infamous suggestion – which was really more of an order – that Barber should change the way he carries the football. He brought the ball up from his side, cradled it across his chest and held it with two hands more often. And Barber worked throughout the offseason to get comfortable with the new style, even running on the treadmill with a ball in his arms.

And he also changed his mental approach on the suggestion of the coaches, who asked him to think about ball security before anything else. They believed all his turnovers were the result of not paying attention to the defenders while thinking instead about picking up an extra yard.

"We looked at two years of all his turnovers and we said, ‘Hey, most of his turnovers are based on that he's thinking about that next man to miss, that next tackle he's got to break, and he never once thought about the ball,'" Ingram said. "He was still breaking tackles with his feet and his legs and he was doing those things. And we sat him down and said, ‘Hey, this is what we've got to do. You've got to be a better leader and you've got to take care of the ball. And the only way you can be a better leader on this team is if you take care of the ball.'

"Tiki is a very proud individual and there wasn't anything proud about last year. He talks about that with the young running backs all the time. There is nothing good about having a turnover – nothing at all that you can live with. You can make plays with your feet. He was making plays with his feet anyway. What are you going to do with that other arm anyway? You can't do anything with that other hand."

The results speak for themselves. He's topped 100 yards in four of the first five games this season and he was averaging an incredible 6.0 yards per rush. He's completely taken over as the feature back, even supplanting Dayne in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

And his teammates have definitely taken note.

"I think he's more focused this year," left tackle Luke Petitgout said. "He's determined to get things back on track. I think he's turned it up a notch."

Now the only question is: How long can it last? Can Barber's body take another year of a full-time pounding? And will Coughlin allow him to continue to carry the load? Coughlin admitted that he has to fight the urge to overuse Barber and force himself to find a way to give him a break.

"I still believe that you need to utilize and have ready to play more than one running back," he said. "I would like to be able to continue to utilize more than one back.

"But that time has not yet come."

When will it come? "When he can tell us, ‘Hey, I need a break, I need a breather, I can't keep going,'" Ingram said. "The guy is driven right now. That's what you want in the team. You want those players and those offensive linemen looking at you saying, ‘Hey, this guy is going every mile for me. He's making plays beyond what I can do. Let me go make some plays beyond what he can do.'"

The Giants Beat Top Stories