For former Georgia running back Garrison Hearst, Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons has been a long time coming. After missing the last two seasons rehabbing a broken ankle suffered against the Falcons in January 1999, Hearst is scheduled to start after an encouraging preseason and expected to share the load with rookie Kevan Barlow.
During the final week of the preseason, Hearst didn't know if he would make the final roster, let alone be named the starter. The 49ers have a horrible salary cap situation and Hearst's contract contained easily attainable incentives including a $477,000 base salary.
Hearst's original incentive package, according to ESPN.com, called for a $611,500 bonus if he gains just 1 rushing yard, has one reception or plays in 1 percent of the offensive snaps in 2001. He would also collect an additional $611,500 if he scores just one touchdown either rushing or receiving, or if Hearst has five receptions for the season.
His one-year contract was restructured earlier this week and makes the $1.2 million in incentives harder to reach.
"If Garrison does what we're anticipating he'll do and what we're all pulling for him to do, he'll be rewarded and compensated properly," general manager Terry Donahue told the Contra Costa Times.
"I don't know there's fulfillment being named the starter," Hearst said. "As I play and hopefully things go well, I'll get more out of that than saying I'm the starter."
Meanwhile, NFL fans are keeping a close eye on the Denver backfield trio of Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, and Mike Anderson. Denver coach Mike Shanahan has not named a starter for Monday night's matchup with the New York Giants at the new Invesco Field. Former Bulldog Davis appears to be in his best shape since suffering knee and leg injuries during the last two seasons. Former Bulldog Gary is close to full strength after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. Anderson is the player who rushed for almost 1,500 yards filling in for them last season.
Davis is expected to start after a promising final preseason game in which he ran for a 20 yard touchdown and 42 yards on 8 carries. While Gary's playing time could decrease due to Davis being the starter, he is strictly a team player.
"Given everything equal, I said Terrell should be the starter." Gary told the Rocky Mountain News this week.
"You've got to deal with the team factor, too, when making these types of decisions. Like with the decision they made with Bubby [Brister] and Brian [Griese]. The team is tender in that nature. You have to look at every aspect of it," Gary said.
"I truly don't think whatever decision they made would have been a wrong decision."
"I don't know if they know or not," quarterback Brian Griese said. "I think they're all such good guys they put the team before themselves. It's unbelievable, to get to this level and still maintain perspective on things and realize 'the team is bigger than me.'"
Let's not forget Cowboys' quarterback Quincy Carter, who will start against Tampa Bay on Sunday, his first pro game. Carter is definitely being thrown into the fire against the vaunted Tampa Bay defense, one of the best in the NFL.
"I think I've got a pretty good grasp of it (offense) right now," Carter said Thursday afternoon, preparing to make his NFL debut. "We haven't had a lot of reps with each other, especially the starters. But it's going to be something that we'll have to just learn as we go. It won't be easy, but I think, in time, we can get it together."