ASHBURN, Va. - After announcing running backs Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber would be co-starters before the season opener, New York Giants coach Jim Fassell didn't get approval from either one.
"Ron told me, 'Tiki is the veteran,' " Fassell said. " 'He has been here. Go ahead and name him.' "
"Then Tiki said, 'Ron is the first-round pick, and I don't need it. Name him.' "
The selfless attitudes re-affirmed Fassell's original decision. Most team don't rotate running backs because one is usually better than the others. But it has worked for the Giants, who lead the NFL in rushing with 562 yards. They will face a sixth-ranked Washington Redskins defense Sunday night at Giants Stadium.
Barber starts, but Dayne comes in as early as the second play, and the two split the position the rest of the game. New York is the only team in the NFC using a true two-man rotation. Dayne has 63 carries for 197 yards and a touchdown this season. Barber has 41 carries for an NFL-leading 326 yards and four touchdowns.
Dayne has 22 more carries because the Giants are more likely to pass with Barber in the game. Barber also has 12 catches this year compared to Dayne's one.
"We're afforded two starters," Barber said. "There is no drop-off when one guy comes in. He helps me out a lot because he wears down defenses. When I get in there, I'm fresh.
"When we drafted Ron, I knew he was going to be a complement to me. We could have gone after Shaun Alexander, who would have been more of a replacement. So I knew there was a role for me."
Which is to get the big play. Barber had a 78-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of the Giants' (3-0) season-opening win over Arizona. He had a 31-yard touchdown run against Philadelphia the next week and a 19-yard run last week at Chicago.
Barber is averaging eight yards a carry, while Dayne is averaging three. Dayne's average may be low for running backs, but he does exactly what Fassell wants - pound on defenses.
Dayne, 5-foot-10, 253 pounds, is 53 pounds heavier than Barber. His job is to knock around defensive linemen, linebackers and safeties in the same manner he did in his four years at Wisconsin with his straight-ahead running style.
That sets up Barber, who likes to run outside the tackles and has good speed in the open field. With a revamped offensive line that has only one returning starter, a revitalized quarterback in Kerry Collins and two dependable receivers in Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer, the Giants' offense is more potent than it has been in years.
"We needed to get better on offense," Fassell said. "We made the improvements, and they're showing.
"Even though we were 0-4 in the preseason, I felt we were a much better football team. And the confidence was building even as we went 0-4, which sounds crazy. But we just went about our business. This team has a very serious approach to the game."
Especially the rotating backs, something Fassell couldn't have envisioned would work so flawlessly.
Barber had been in the league three seasons, but most did not think he was big enough to be an every-down back. The Giants used their first pick to draft Dayne, who won the Heisman Trophy last year but came in with his own set of questions. Dayne started for four years at Wisconsin and set the NCAA Division I-A record for most rushing yards (6,937). But the wear and tear had teams shying away. Dayne became the third running back taken, behind the Ravens' Jamal Lewis and Arizona's Thomas Jones, and No. 11 pick overall.
Since he's only playing half the game now, Dayne wearing down is no longer a concern. Dayne wearing down other defenses is a concern for other teams.
"Ron Dayne choo-choo train, and that is exactly what he does," Redskins defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said. "We know where they are going. Ron is not going to keep running outside to the perimeter. He is going to bring [the ball] up the middle and run right between their tackles. There is no secret to it.
"With the Giants, [the rotation] is working well. They are mixing them well. They are getting good rush yards."
NOTES: A father and son who worked as groundskeepers at the Redskins' practice facility have filed a lawsuit against owner Daniel Snyder, alleging he defamed them in comments attributed to him in a magazine article.
John Jenkins Sr. and John Jenkins Jr. alleged in the suit that Snyder damaged their reputations and caused them "mental anxiety, emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation" because of the comments in a Sports Illustrated article in November 1999.
The suit specifically refers to one quote attributed to Snyder: "At Redskin Park, the fields were in bad shape. There were three guys trying to kill the players with their crappy fields, so I brought in the head of the grounds crew at the stadium to oversee the fieldwork. Shame on me for trying to make the fields perfect."
Snyder's spokesman Karl Swanson, declined to comment yesterday, except saying "it's a frivolous lawsuit, and we'll defend this vigorously."
... Stubblefield faces a hearing on Oct. 4 on a charge that he assaulted his wife.
The defensive lineman is to appear in Fairfax County, Va., domestic court. Any trial, it would take place several weeks later.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Hard to stop
The unbeaten New York Giants have been running over opponents with the combination of the speedy Tiki Barber and the powerful Ron Dayne. Barber is first in the NFC in rushing and Dayne is ninth, making the Giants the only team in the NFL with two players in the top 10 in a conference. Their game-by-game statistics:
Opponent Runner Att. Yds. Avg. LG TD
Arizona Barber 13 ... 144... 11.1 ... 78 ... 2
Dayne 23 ... 78 ... 3.4 ... 10 ... 1
Totals 36 ... 222 ... 6.2 ... 3
Philadelphia Barber 11 ... 96 ... 8.7 ... 31 ... 1
Dayne 21 ... 50 ... 2.4 ... 13 ... 0
Totals 32 ... 146 ... 4.6 ... 1
Chicago Barber 17 ... 86 ... 5.1 ... 19 ... 1
Dayne 19 ... 69 ... 3.6 ... 13 ... 0
Totals 36 ... 155 ... 4.3 ... 1
Season Barber 41 ... 326 ... 8.0 ... 78 ... 4
Dayne 63 ... 197 ... 3.1 ... 13 ... 1
Totals 104 ... 523 ... 5.0 ... 5