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Cowboys RB Barber tests injured thigh, hopes to play vs. Panthers

Marion Barber walked out to the practice field in full gear Wednesday and flashed a thumbs-up.  

IRVING, Texas -- Marion Barber walked out to the practice field in full gear Wednesday and flashed a thumbs-up.

His tight left thigh was feeling fine -- or, at least, good enough to give it a test run.

Barber did some light jogging and caught a few balls during the portion of practice open to reporters. The Dallas Cowboys refused to say what else their starting running back did or didn't do because they don't have to put out an injury report until Thursday since their next game is Monday night against the Carolina Panthers.

"I'm feeling good," Barber said before practice. "If I'm good today, I'm going to be tomorrow, and then I'm going to be good up until Monday."

Barber strained his leg during a 35-yard run late in the fourth quarter of Dallas' 33-31 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night. It might have been a 42-yard touchdown run had Barber not come up lame.

Barber said it "felt like a bad cramp" and that it has previously happened to him. He's hopeful of playing Monday night.

An MRI showed no damage beyond whatever pain Barber feels. He was bound to be sore for a few days anyway after running 18 times for 124 yards and one touchdown against the Giants.

Barber walked through the Cowboys' locker room without a limp Wednesday. He said he hadn't run since the game. If the pain was severe, or if the team was worried about the injury being aggravated, coaches probably would have erred on the side of caution and kept Barber from even suiting up Wednesday.

"There's no injury report, so we really don't want to comment on injuries today in case somebody else in the other city would find out," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "Did you see him out there? OK. There you go."

If Barber can't play, or is limited, Dallas has two capable backups in Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. The Cowboys already have been using all three.

Jones is the breakaway threat, and he showed it by turning seven carries into 96 yards against the Giants, including the seven yards left by Barber after his injury. Choice had eight yards on two carries, but he proved he can handle being Dallas' main runner with his performance over the last month of last season when Jones and Barber were hurt.

"Obviously both of them know that if Marion isn't capable of going, their role is going to be picked up a little," Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete said. "Whether either one of them is in there, I feel very comfortable, both run or pass."

With another 13 games left and two guys who could fill in, the Cowboys might be tempted to play it safe with Barber. But Peete said Barber's either ready or he's not.

"If the player is capable of going and it's not going to hinder the offense or himself, then it's probably in the best interest to let them play," Peete said. "But that's all determined by the player, the trainers, how he's looking in practice."

Then again, regardless of health, coaches are always thinking about how much to use each running back.

"You just have to monitor and watch them," Peete said. "If one of them is getting really hot and having a lot of success, obviously you continue to keep them in there. On the second hand, you also want to watch the extent of how much they wear down. It depends on the look in their eyes when they come to the sideline. If they're tired, you need to take them out and give them a breather. If they're looking fine and feeling fine, you leave them in there."

The Cowboys ran for 251 yards against the Giants, their most in any game since 1993. Barber's average of 6.9 yards per carry was the best of his five-year NFL career.

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