Barnes Must Prove Worth Again Chad Peters DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer June 30, 2004, 4:58 p.m. (CDT) IRVING, Texas -- Darian Barnes says he never anticipated being used as trade bait on draft weekend. But after a draft-day deal sending the third-year fullback from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Cowboys for a seventh-round pick, Barnes had to quickly adjust to the unexpected. "I was really surprised that it was made," said Barnes of the sudden trade, causing him to join his third team in as many years. "I got the call right around when the draft was over. I soaked it in for about five minutes and started packing my stuff. At that time, it was just time to go and start my career here." Soaking things in would seemingly come as nothing new for the well-traveled fullback, who was nicknamed after a cartoon sponge by his former Tampa Bay teammates. As the story goes, "They called me SpongeBob because I used to wear SpongeBob clothes and I did an interview for a TV show in a SpongeBob costume," explained the 6-2, 250-pound Barnes with a chuckle. "I just felt like doing it." The trade left Barnes with more on his mind than just costumes and cartoon characters. Anxiety began to set in as he realized his football future was up in the air once again, knowing he would have to prove himself to another new coach. "It's really hard to say," Barnes said, acknowledging initially having mixed emotions on the trade. "One team is letting you go and you've kind of staked your claim to that team and you think you're going to be there to make something. On the other hand, another team wants you, so the only thing you can do is look at both sides of the coin and just be positive and just know that you're going to come here." One possible reason behind the Cowboys' interest in Barnes might stem from the familiarity several members within the organization already had with him. Barnes, who attended Hampton University after transferring from Rutgers, lost his collegiate eligibility in an academic oversight leaving him five credits short of meeting the required coursework. The error forced him to enter the 2002 supplemental draft, which he fell through untouched. Picked up by the New York Giants later that summer, Barnes drew interest from them in part because of retiring Cowboys scout Jim Garrett, who worked out Barnes as a favor to the fullback's father. Current Tampa Bay backup quarterback and former Cowboys backup Jason Garrett, son of Jim Garrett, was playing for the Giants at the time and attended many of these types of workouts with his dad, and alerted the Giants team to Barnes' ability. Cowboys assistant head coach Sean Payton was also the Giants' offensive coordinator at the time when Barnes attended training with the Giants that summer of 2002. At one point considered the front-runner for the starting fullback job, Barnes eventually was released at the end of camp and claimed on waivers by the Buccaneers. Despite the familiar faces, Barnes already notices differences between his new team and all his former stops. "It's a lot more competitive and guys really work around here," Barnes said, comparing the environment with the Cowboys to the one he left behind with the Buccaneers. "Very family-oriented atmosphere. Everybody's a tight-nit group - the whole squad. It's a high demand on everybody. You really have to push yourself every day to make this team." Playing in the first 14 games last season for the Buccaneers, Barnes was used primarily as a blocking back and on special teams. A shoulder sprain ended his season two games early, forcing him onto injured reserve Dec. 16. He became expendable this off-season with fullback Mike Alstott healthy again and with the Buccaneers acquiring fullback Greg Comella from the Houston Texans. He does not have a free ride, though, onto the Cowboys'53-man roster just because they spent a seventh-round draft choice to acquire him. But the door is somewhat cracked open since Richie Anderson, last year's starting fullback, is being considered more of an all-purpose back this year by Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells. And depending on if Julius Jones wins the starting tailback job, the starting fullback job could be wide open. Anderson is scheduled to alternate between fullback and running back this season, so the Cowboys will likely want two fullbacks on the roster - possibly three if Anderson ends up being the starting running back. The Cowboys not only need a backup for insurance behind Anderson, but a powerful blocker to complement his more versatile style. That will place Barnes in a three-man competition throughout this summer's training camp in Oxnard, Calif., with third-year fullback Jamar Martin and rookie free agent Lousaka Polite. A former fourth round pick in the 2002 draft, Martin has the potential to be a punishing blocker, but he has yet to live up to that billing. He has even drawn the ire of Parcells this off-season for being overweight, and concerns linger regarding his versatility out of the backfield and ability to play special teams. Polite, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Pittsburgh, has displayed soft hands in pass-catching drills throughout the team's mini-camps and is thought to be a relatively complete fullback, capable of blocking, running and catching the ball. How polished he is on special teams will likely determine his fate. Given Barnes' experience on special teams with the Buccaneers, he holds the edge in that department over his competition. He had seven special teams tackles last year to go with three his Super Bowl-winning rookie year. His versatility out of the backfield remains a question, though, and it is something he must improve on if he is to be trusted as a viable threat in the offense. "If I've got to catch a pass, I'll catch it," said Barnes, who only has one catch for six yards and no carries in his career. "And if I have to run it, I'll run it. I'm up for whatever the job calls for. "I think once training camp comes around and we start hitting - hopefully I'm still here - I'll do really well in this program." Only time will tell if "SpongeBob" will be airing on Sundays this fall in Dallas.