Barlow barks back

Poor Kevan Barlow, so misunderstood. And now, no longer a starter this week for the 49ers. Barlow responded to his demotion Tuesday, and also to the heat he has taken for comments he made two weeks ago that were perceived as a slap at the team's offensive line.

When he came to work Tuesday after a players' off day, Barlow – now healthy enough to practice and play after missing last week's game with a concussion – learned that coach Dennis Erickson had named a banged-up Maurice Hicks as the team's starting tailback for Saturday's game against the Washington Redskins.

"I was very disappointed," Barlow said. "I didn't agree with that. Do I want to be the starter? Do I deserve to be the starter? I think I deserve to be the starter."

But Barlow said he supports any decision made by Erickson, and that his primary disappointment stems from the fact he won't be able to work behind a struggling offensive line that had perhaps its best day of the season during Sunday's 31-28 overtime win against Arizona, when Hicks rushed for 139 yards on 34 carries – both season highs for the 49ers.

"Things just ain't going well, so I feel like they feel they need to go to Maurice," Barlow said. "But I felt like I've been supportive with the offensive line since Day 1. I've grown with them. We have a lot of young guys. Now they're starting to blossom, now they're starting to come into their own. And I feel like I should be the guy out there with them since I was the guy out there on Day 1 when we wasn't running the ball well."

" I've seen it turn since the Rams game (on Dec. 5, when Barlow had 48 yards rushing on 19 carries). I've seen a big difference. And, obviously, you saw the difference in Arizona when I couldn't play. But that's a decision he wants to make. I'm supportive of him and his coaching staff since Day 1. He's the coach, he makes the decisions."

When asked if he could have had 139 yards against Arizona, Barlow said, "I think I could have had 139. I think I could have had a lot of yards like I've proven in the past. We grew together, they're starting to jell together, for guys who haven't even really played together. It might take this long to start to get that camaraderie. And they're starting to get it. And I was starting to get a feel for them."

Two weeks ago, when he was asked if he had any preferences on what the Niners should do with the high draft picks the team will have next year, Barlow replied half-jokingly, "I want seven offensive linemen – the first through the seventh round."

After letting out with a laugh, Barlow added, "Shoot, it doesn't matter – whatever is going to help the team win. I don't know whether it's D-Line, O-line, wide receiver, running back. Whatever helps us win."

Barlow, however, received some searing criticism for those comments from fullback Fred Beasley after San Francisco's running game rolled over the Cardinals for 168 yards. He apologized Monday to his teammates, though Barlow said it was more like talking to his teammates, several of whom he spoke with via telephone after the game. Barlow did not travel to Arizona with the team.

Barlow said most of the offensive linemen knew his earlier comments were a joke.

"Yeah, they knew that," Barlow said. "And them guys know me. I hang out with them guys off the field all of the time. We drink brews, we get a bite to eat, I bought the guys Louis Vuitton luggage last year, so them guys know it was nothing personal. Actually I gave them Louis Vuitton certificates.

"Fred took it personal. If I would have heard it the way he heard it, I would be upset, too. I apologized for them misunderstanding. I didn't apologize for what I said because I didn't think none of them guys would have took it personal if they would have heard the whole thing. It was nothing personal toward them."

Barlow said he also has talked to Beasley, with whom he has had a contentious relationship in the past. Barlow even moved his stall in the team's locker room next to those of the offensive linemen – and away from the other running backs, including Beasley – a few seasons ago.

"I talked to (Beasley) and I explained to him the situation," Barlow said. "He just heard it wrong. If you see one quote in the paper big as day, ‘I want to draft seven O-linemen,' yeah, I would be upset, too. But when you don't hear the beginning, the middle and the end of the quote, then you look at it a different way."

Barlow said "about 15" of his teammates called him when they returned from Arizona on Sunday evening, and a few even came over to his home. "I've got a lot of friends on this team," he said. "A lot of these guys are my teammates. They won't turn against me. Guys on this team, they were just positive. Those guys embraced me. I've been here for four years and them guys know me better than that."

Erickson said he's not concerned how it will affect Barlow to come off the bench, and he said the team's erstwhile starting tailback still will get plenty of work.

"Kevan has to come out when he gets his opportunities, which he'll get a lot of opportunities," Erickson said. "They are both going to play. We have to play them both. Maurice ran out of gas at the end (against Arizona). And then when he gets an opportunity to play, go out and earn the position back in my book. That's just how I look at it right now at this part of the season."

Which is OK with Barlow, as long as that changes at some point soon.

"I think I should be out there," Barlow said. "I think (general manager Terry) Donahue, they brought me here, they want me to be their guy. I know they support me and we'll see how things play out. If they feel like they don't want me to start, if they feel like there is no room for me here, then I'll have to discuss that later with my agent. "But right now, I'm here to help these guys win and coach these guys on the sideline. Hey, whatever. I'm the most recognizable name on this team besides (Julian Peterson), so I'm going to take most of the blows. Do I think I should start? Yes. But if I'm not going to be starting, if I don't have no role on this team, then we'll have to decide something."

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