Cowboys' legends tried to warn Barber

The Cowboys took great pleasure in proving Emmitt Smith’s 7-9 prediction wrong last season, but the NFL’s all-time leading rusher was right about one player at Valley Ranch.

Emmitt tried to warn Marion Barber about taking too many hits, voicing his concern the spring before Barber became a full-time starter.

"I think he spends a lot of energy that may not be necessary," Smith said. "For a starting back, I'm all about putting your heart into it, but you're doing a lot of kicking, running up, bucking and you're exerting a lot of energy.

"We need you for four quarters. And I'm going to say 'we' because I'm a Cowboy, too. We need you for four quarters."

Those thoughts were shared by another Hall of Fame ex-Cowboys running back.

“I like him a whole lot,” Tony Dorsett said. “My only concern is that this is a very physical league.

"When you take a lot of hits over a period of time, it takes its toll on you. I just hope he becomes a little wiser and smarter about some of the hits he takes."

The suggestions from the two best backs in franchise history were shrugged off at Valley Ranch. At the time, Wade Phillips said trouble tends to come when you ask a player to do things that aren’t natural for him.

The team’s tune has changed after Barber’s two injury-plagued seasons. As ESPN.com’s Matt Mosley wrote earlier this week, running backs coach Skip Peete recently showed Barber several plays on which it didn’t make sense for him to fight for an extra yard.

"I remember talking to Barry Sanders about why he ran out of bounds when he was close to the sidelines, and he said, 'Why should I take that hit if it was unnecessary?'" Peete said. "I feel the same way.

“You see a guy lower his shoulder to get the extra yard, but why do it if it's not going to benefit the team? It looks good on TV, but you chance losing him. What does that do if it's only going to be second-and-7 instead of second-and-8? You didn't need to take that hit. If it's third-and-5, then you drive for the first down. You have to be smart."

Marion the Barbarian would have been wise to listen to a pair of legends a couple of years ago.