Despite stalling, Dayne tries to thunder past critics

Giants running back OK splitting time with Barber

January 25, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - New York Giants running back Ron Dayne likes to keep things interesting.

At least off the field in team meetings, where Dayne tends to throw little pieces of paper - or whatever else he can find - at running backs coach Mike Gillhamer while he's addressing his players.

"All of a sudden, I'll see things coming out of the corner of my eye," Gillhamer said. "Then I'll have to say, `Ron!' "

Dayne only starts throwing when position meetings, as they sometimes do, get boring. He deems it his rookie responsibility to entertain.

"You have to do something to liven things up," Dayne said. "To keep the guys paying attention or keep them up. I just like to throw stuff."

How entertaining Dayne is on the field is a subject of debate, one the former Heisman Trophy winning rookie has been losing lately. Dayne, at 5 feet 10, 253 pounds, is hearing criticism from the New York press that his slow, plodding style is ruining the Giants' running game.

It seems the "Thunder and Lightning" duo of Dayne and Tiki Barber has lost half its effectiveness.

This after the promising start of the season for what looked like the league's most dangerous running back duo. Dayne's inside power was the perfect complement to Barber's outside speed, and halfway through the season, the pair had the Giants leading the NFL in rushing.

But in the last three games of the regular season, Dayne rushed for a combined 42 yards and no touchdowns while Barber flourished with nearly 100 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in every game. In the playoffs, the two have the same number of rushing attempts (27), yet Dayne is averaging 3 yards a carry while Barber is averaging nearly a yard more.

Lightning continues to strike while Thunder has rolled away. Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware, though, is not taking Dayne lightly.

"He's going to make very few mistakes with the ball," Boulware said. "He'll probably be one of the great running backs in this league."

For the season, Dayne rushed for 770 yards and five touchdowns, for a 3.4-yard average. Barber had 15 fewer carries but averaged 4.7 yards.

Splitting time with Barber was a big adjustment for a guy who was a four-year starter at Wisconsin, where he set the NCAA Division I rushing record.

"You always want the ball more, but I just did what I needed to do to help," Dayne said. "It was frustrating not getting the ball at first.

"But it doesn't really matter who gets the ball more as long as I keep getting [to the Super Bowl]. We keep winning with this style, and now we're in the Super Bowl, so we might as well keep that up."

Dayne said he always seemed to have two or three holes to choose from at Wisconsin.

As this season wore on, Dayne realized he'd have one hole in the NFL, and he'd better hit it quick. Some critics, though, think Dayne is not hitting the hole quick enough, leading to his recent decline in production. It is a notion Gillhamer disputes.

"His attitude has been great. He hasn't gotten down. Living in New York, if you don't get 100 yards, you get a ton of `What's wrong with you?' He believes in himself, and I believe in him. It will come," he said.

It is doubtful such an outing will come in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Ravens, who were No. 1 against the run this season.

The strength of the Ravens' defense is right up the middle, with tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams, and linebacker Ray Lewis.

Dayne's lack of outside speed virtually limits him to running through the heart of the defense. It is something he realizes, accepts and looks forward to, especially meeting with Lewis.

"I'm going to go for him," Dayne said of a possible collision with Lewis. "I won't shy away from him. He'll probably be there every time anyway, so I'm going to go at him."

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