Barlow back where he belongs?

Depending on the perspective, Kevan Barlow has either moved uptown or across town in the 49ers locker room. But the way the mercurial tailback sees it, he has simply moved back home where he belongs. Not that Barlow had much choice. "I explained to him about how a divided house will fall, and he understands what all that means," coach Mike Nolan said Saturday in explaining why Barlow's locker stall is back with the offensive players – and just two chambers away from fullback Fred Beasley.

Beasley and Barlow have had a volatile relationship dating back to the 2002 season, when Barlow insinuated that Beasley put more effort into blocking for best friend Garrison Hearst, San Francisco's starting tailback at the time.

Beasley took offense to those comments, and the two had to be separated by former running backs coach Tom Rathman in what was described at the time as a near brawl. Barlow then received permission to move his chamber to the other side of the team locker room – far away from Beasley and the other offensive players.

Barlow's locker remained there – between reserve defensive backs and adjacent to the team's offensive linemen – for the next 2½ seasons without much incident, except that he seemed just a little out of place.

But Nolan changed all that as soon as he took over as 49ers coach in January.

"It was moved when I took the job," Nolan said.

Nolan said that, while he was being interviewed for the position by 49ers officials, one of the subjects broached was how he would handle the type of locker room dissension that had simmered between Barlow and Beasley over the years, though both players seemed to put the acrimony of previous seasons behind them in 2004.

Nolan answered that question after being hired by putting Barlow's locker back with the rest of the running backs. He discussed the move with Barlow after the fact.

"That group has to be tight," Nolan said. "All groups on this team have to be tight. You can't have dissension or division in your locker room. It doesn't work. Disagreements are going to happen. But you can't just do that and separate them and say, ‘This is our answer.'

"It was a mutual thing with Kevan. As we spoke about it, I said, ‘It's important that this team is one, that we stay together.' He said the same back to me. I said I'd like for him to put his locker back and he said that's where he should be and needed to be. But it was as much his idea. When I brought it out to him, he was as much in favor of it as I was. He was nodding the whole time."

Whether this is a sign of maturity from Barlow remains to be seen. But it was a good change for Nolan to insist upon, and a very positive sign that Barlow agreed seemingly wholeheartedly. While the matter – which has had plenty of time to blow over – might seem minor to some, it was important the supposedly mended fence no longer has an invisible barrier in front of it.

"This is where I started off originally my rookie season," Barlow said. "It feels good to be back over here with the group, with our guys. I belong over here. This is my running back group and I deserve to be over here and I need to be over here with the guys."

When SFI asked Barlow if he was trying to say something to the team by willingly making the move, he replied, "I'm trying to say something. I'm just trying to look toward the future and just try to be positive and take steps in the right direction. That's what we're doing here, from the coaches to the players. So I just wanted to come back over here and get that camaraderie back and just be here in the mix with my guys. I enjoyed spending time over there (across the locker room). But this is my shift. This is my house over here. So I decided to come back here."

Beasley is excused from the minicamp to be with his wife in Atlanta, where she is expecting the couple's fourth child. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say upon his return about his new neighbor at 49ers headquarters.

But others were good-natured about Barlow's locker switch. Quarterback Tim Rattay, who resides a few chambers down to the left of Barlow now, said, "I told him there was a homeowner's association over here. He has to pay dues. … It's great to have him over here."

Barlow said his meeting with Nolan regarding the locker switch "was all positive. I didn't want to be, like, an individual guy. Football is a team sport, and it starts in the locker room. This is where I needed to be."

Barlow said he and Beasley have patched their differences, and there didn't seem to be any underlying tension between the two last year. Of course, that was somewhat hard to tell in the locker room, where they rarely came into contact once they left the practice field.

That won't be the case this year.

"I don't think there's no problems with me and Fred," Barlow said. "Fred's an outspoken guy. Fred's just being Fred. I don't think I need to discuss whether I'm going to be here or there with Fred. It's bigger than me, and it's bigger than Fred. It's about the team. Some people might not get along well off the field, but as long as we get along and (are) able to work together on the field, that's all that matters."

So, they're friends now? Barlow didn't exactly go that far.

"Y'all can hate each other off the field, but as long as you all get along with each other on the field…" he said. "I'm not saying that's the case with me and Fred. I feel like I get along with everybody. But it is about trust. Work is work. I got hired to do a job, and I go out there and do my job just like Fred got hired to do a job and he goes and does his job. I don't think anything else affects what we do on the field."

With Beasley and Barlow now dressing next to each other each morning during the football season, we're about to find out.

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