Coach Steve Mariucci, of course, has a predictable answer to the idea of going with one player – whether it be Hearst or Barlow – as the featured back instead of the rotation the Niners currently favor.
When asked if that could be a solution to the team's sluggish start in the rushing game – where the Niners rank 20th in the NFL after finishing second in the league in that department last year – coach Steve Mariucci said, "Could it be? Sure, it could be. Will we? No. Because we have two fine running backs, and we intend to use them both."
But the problem has been the Niners haven't been using either enough. Hearst, the starter, has just 17 carries through two games. Barlow, the backup, has 15 carries.
"We probably could run the ball a little more," Barlow said.
Despite his lack of carries, Barlow ranks 15th in the NFC with 80 yards rushing. Every running back ranked ahead of him has at least nine more carries. Most have more than twice as many. Even though Hearst is averaging 2.6 yards per carry, Barlow is not getting frustrated with coming off the bench and sharing time with the established veteran.
"We did it last year," Barlow said. "We're used to it. It's no different than last year. Garrison gets it. I get it. He had 1,000 yards (actually, 1,206) last year. I had 600 (actually, 512) last year. It's not about adapting or getting used to it, because we've already done it."
But that's not to say Barlow doesn't want more carries.
"If it was up to me, I'd take the ball 200 times a game," he said. "Put it in my hands every quarter." When asked if he can be as effective when he's getting seven or eight carries a game, Barlow said, "I don't know. I mean, a few carries … when you get the ball, you just see what you can do with it."
The Niners need to see what Barlow can do with the ball more often. If that means less carries for Hearst at this point, so be it. But expect instead to see an equal distribution of carries between the two until one or the other clearly pulls away from the other in performance.
Of course, that already seems to be happening.