Barlow baffled

The subject was the 49ers' struggling running game, and Kevan Barlow started getting a little hot when he was asked to identify the reasons for – and the solutions to – those struggles. "I don't like it when people (expletive) say it's me, that I'm not working hard, that I'm not motivated, that I'm not doing what I'm supposed to do," Barlow told SFI on Thursday. "Am I pushed to go? Hell, yeah, I'm pushed to go. Don't point the finger at me. Put it somewhere else."

"I want to be one of the best in the league," Barlow continued, his brief flash of temper subsiding. "I don't know what I can do. I'm just going to go out there and do what I'm coached to do, try to make guys miss and hit a home run. I'm going to stay positive."

That's been a little difficult to do lately with the Niners struggling on the ground like they seldom have in recent memory. Barlow has been the posterboy for those struggles, gaining just 98 yards on 39 carries in San Francisco's past three games, a 2.5 average.

This isn't the way it was supposed to be after Barlow took over the featured role at tailback this year for the departed Garrison Hearst. But after charging for 114 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in Week 2 against New Orleans, Barlow has found little room to run as both he and the Niners have plummeted in the NFL rushing rankings.

The Niners have averaged just 54 yards a game on the ground since then, and Barlow has slipped to 10th among the NFL rushing leaders with 288 yards on 78 carries.

"I'm just waiting to get untracked," Barlow said. "I'm being patient. It's kind of tough going from No. 2 in the league in rushing the year I got here – and fifth last year - to 30th in the league this year. It's a big drop. It's tough, man, and it's frustrating."

Everybody's frustrated. The Niners haven't been able to establish much offensive rhythm because they've been getting stuffed on the ground. That has forced them to go to the air, where they are finding success, but it has thrown the attack out of balance.

And that points back to Barlow, because – after sharing carries with regular starter Garrison Hearst the past three years – he IS the rushing game this year. The Niners promised to feed him the ball early and often, but it hasn't worked out that way lately with the ground game going nowhere.

"Well, he hasn't had as much success as he wants to or we want him to," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "It's a combination of having places to go and running. It's a combination of things. I look for him to break out of it soon. It's just something that happens. We're not running the ball, whether it is Kevan Barlow or who."

When SFI suggested that Barlow might be in a funk, Erickson said, "You just have to play it as time goes on and see where he's at. He's a young player that has a lot to learn and he's still learning as the guy. It's different when you come in for Garrison Hearst. And now you're the guy, so it's a little different world. It's a young player growing up. Those are all learning things with young players when they take that next step to the next level of being the guy."

Barlow was hesitant to say so, but he admitted he has had trouble lately developing synchronicity with the linemen in front of him. And that's not really so surprising. Some of San Francisco's rushing problems obviously start up front.

The 49ers lost starting tackle Derrick Deese and guard Ron Stone during the offseason. Kwame Harris – Deese's replacement – and two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry each have missed most of the season with injuries. Regular starting right guard Kyle Kosier has switched to left tackle to take Harris' place, further hindering the line's continuity.

"We're playing musical chairs in the offensive line," Barlow said. "You lose two Pro Bowlers, Deese and Stone. That's kind of hard on a team. Kwame goes down, Newberry's out. One week, Kyle's playing right guard, the next week he's playing left tackle. It's hard, man. I know my O-line guys are out there busting their balls. I'm not taking nothing away from them guys. It's kind of hard on them when they're playing different positions every week because of injuries.

"You just go out there and try to stay positive and try to get something going. There's no complaining and there's no excuses."

Erickson isn't giving any, either.

"The line shuffling, obviously, because of blocking schemes and different places, has affected our running game a little bit," he said. "But this will be the third game that we've had the same lineup. That quits being an excuse. We either block them or we don't block them."

And Barlow either finds his running groove or he doesn't. He remains completely confident that he will.

"We're going through a moment right now and then we'll get back on top," he said. "I know what I can do. I know God has blessed me with the talent. I'm not losing the faith. I feel confident in my game. Because I know in my heart what type of player I am. I know I'm a top-five, top-10 back in this league."


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