Better Barlow ready to ball

There are plenty of 49ers looking good this spring during the team's offseason workouts. But looking even better than most is second-year running back Kevan Barlow. He cuts, he slides, he jukes and dances in myriad directions with the football in his hands. He's a 240-pound wrecking ball with speed, moves and the elusiveness to make defenders miss.

"This year, everything is coming along," Barlow said in an interview with SFI. "I talked to coach and he said my role is going to increase. I want to be in the offense as much as I can and help produce."

Barlow is light years ahead of where he was at this time last year, when he still was a confused rookie mending from late-April athroscopic surgery to repair meniscus cartilage in his knee. That set back Barlow not only in his physical development, but also in the mental approach that is so important at the NFL level.

Now, after making a splash during an eye-opening rookie season in which he gained 512 yards rushing as Garrison Hearst's backup at tailback, Barlow is healthy and has a firm grasp of San Francisco's system as he attempts to carve and even larger role for himself in the offense during the summer of 2002.

"Everything is much easier than it was the previous year," Barlow said. "Last year, I was just going out there guessing, just trying to move full speed and not knowing really what I was doing. I'm a lot more comfortable in what I'm doing now, trying to be more decisive."

A player with unlimited physical capability, Barlow now is displaying the maturity it takes to be a top pro. He is giving attention to the finer details of the game, and all the little things that can help him become a better player.

"He's training much harder than he ever has in his life," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "He's learning how to work like our vets."

One example: Barlow now takes extra time to make sure his huge legs are limber before he begins conditioning and drills. Last year, he suffered a quadriceps pull early in training camp that forced him to miss almost three weeks of drills when he still was being considered a possibility for a starting role.

"I've got big-ass legs," Barlow said, laughing. "It takes an extra 15, 20 minutes to get these puppies warmed up."

But once Barlow gets warmed up, just watch him go. It could be something special to see in 2002.

"I'm going out there full-speed, full-go, giving it my all," Barlow said. "I want to get everything down pat right now, so when the season comes everything will be intact and I'll be ready to go and be on top of my game. Because I'm going to ball this year."

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