Barber kicks leadership skills into high gear

Tiki Barber was being interviewed on talk radio recently when the host relayed a message from an earlier caller. The caller had accused Barber of giving up on a long run late in the Seahawks game. Barber sounded angry defending himself when no defense was required. Even casual observers of the Giants since Barber joined the party in 1997 know he leaves everything on the field.

He did appear to give up on the play in question, running out of bounds instead of fighting for another couple yards. But all that means is Barber was approaching exhaustion, and another couple yards weren't worth him staggering to the sideline. He used his mind instead of his body. Works sometimes, even in football.

The blistering critique summed up Barber's status as an under-appreciated star. He essentially was being called a quitter while on his way to another huge day, 151 yards rushing to reach 8,000 for his career. Barber continued a pace to break his team-record total of 1,518 yards rushing set last season. He also became just the seventh back in NFL history with at least 8,000 rushing yards and 500 catches. Marshall Faulk is the only other active player to reach the milestone.

Barber led the NFL with 2,096 yards last season. And yet he's rarely mentioned among the handful of top backs in the game. You hear LaDainian Tomlinson mentioned most prominently, and for good reason. You hear Shaun Alexander's name mentioned a lot, and he's deserving as well.

But who else is better than Barber? Maybe Edgerrin James.

Nobody else. Barber's one of the four best backs in the league.

No, Barber won't outrun anyone to the post. But he will find the sliver of a hole. He will make the correct cut 99.9 percent of the time. He will rip through the hole before defenders have time to plug it up. He catches everything and picks up blitzes and almost never fumbles anymore.

This year Barber has added a wrinkle to his dossier. He seems to have a stronger presence than ever in the locker room. Barber isn't nearly as politically correct as he used to be. He seems to be more vocal, more direct, and the Giants need that kind of leadership.

"This was a game we absolutely had no business losing," Barber said after the excruciating loss to Minnesota. "They did nothing. Anything and everything that happened in that game, we did. We scored our points and we scored their points."

Well said. Barber is almost always on target, on the field and off it. Maybe deep down Giants fans realize their fortune in having No. 21. Yet it seems that the better Barber gets, the more he's taken for granted.

Too much noise about noise: There was a lot of discussion over fan noise after Seattle's faithful tried to blow the Giants out of Qwest Field. Giants fans reach nowhere near the volume that Seattle fans rang up in the recent showdown.

To which I respond, so what?

Some fans are louder than others. It doesn't mean they are better fans, or more dedicated. It usually means two things: They are drunker, or they are younger. Put 'em together and you have the premier formula for providing deafening decibel levels: young drunks. Sitting in on a game at Philadelphia is all the evidence necessary to prove the theory.

On a less scientific note, Seattle fans have the added advantage of always being one arm's length from a vat of Starbucks. Add a few cups of Joe to the equation and you're looking at thousands of young drunks pumped up on coffee.

Giants need to turn the 'corner': Will Allen continues to play well the second half of the season. But the Giants better find a way to lessen the burden on Curtis Deloatch and Corey Webster at the other corner. Webster is playing like a rookie – up and down and up and down – and Deloatch, at least leading to the Cowboys game, is playing like he belongs on the practice squad.

If we can see the team's weakness with a hand covering one eye, imagine 100-hour-a-week coaches devising ways to exploit Curtis Webster, if you will. It's no wonder Will Peterson suddenly showed up at practice last week. Here's a guy who was assumed to be out the rest of the season, or at least most of it. His early presence on the practice field tells us all we need to know about Tom Coughlin's concerns at cornerback.

And, by the way, who would have thought early on that Allen would be the most reliable cornerback on the team?

He's no Willie Joe: You mean Osi Umenyiora stopped talking to reporters? Gee I didn't notice.

Well at least Umenyiora, unlike muted teammate William Joseph, let's his play do the talking. The rest of the league is starting to realize what Giants diehards knew long ago: Umenyiora is going to be a great pro.

He's on the verge of a Pro Bowl season. A pivotal moment in his career came against Seattle when Umenyiora manhandled perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones on several occasions and wound up with two sacks. That's two sacks more than Jones had given up going into the game.

Umenyiora has the combination of speed and strength that's characteristic of all great defensive ends. But we need look no further than a few lockers down to see who Umenyiora brings to mind. Michael Strahan will go down as one of the great ends in league history. Who knows how high Umenyiora will climb. But he has a nice start, a real nice start.

As an aside, Umenyiora may want to reevaluate his decision to diss the media. He seems to be, by all accounts, a pretty levelheaded guy, and probably doesn't realize he's stiff-arming fans in the process. Umenyiora comes off a bit small for pouting over apparent criticism, especially when said criticism was mild, at worst. Maybe he needs to separate himself from Willie Joe, who couldn't even muster a comment when asked for a reaction to the death of Wellington Mara.

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