Hearst getting hungry for more carries?

Garrison Hearst is getting less work but turning it into more production. That's the sort of thing any team would love to see from it's starting tailback, but you've got to wonder how Hearst really feels about his reduction in carries. He's averaging just 12 per game - not much for a Pro Bowler who was fifth in NFC rushing last year. "As long as we're winning, man," Hearst said this week, a testy edge surfacing in his voice. "As long as we're winning and everything's going right, it's fine."

Hearst averaged almost 16 carries a game last year, when he gained 1,206 yards in his remarkable comeback season after missing the previous two seasons with a career-threatening ankle injury. Before his injury, Hearst had a career-high and team-record 310 carries in 1998 on his way to gaining a franchise-record 1,570 yards.

The Niners spelled Hearst often last year with exciting rookie Kevan Barlow, and Barlow has shown so much development in his second season that he now is getting the ball on almost an equal basis as Hearst.

Entering Monday night's game in Seattle, Barlow is actually making more out of his chances than Hearst, averaging a hefty 5.6 yards on each of his 40 carries to rank 15th in the NFC in rushing with 224 yards. Hearst is 10th in the NFC with 258 yards, averaging 5.3 yards on his 49 carries. Even though he is splitting carries with Barlow, Hearst has 31 more yards rushing on seven less carries than he had after four games last season.

Hearst - after gaining just five yards on five carries in a Sept. 15 loss to Denver - has shown his drive and ability the past two weeks. He gained 97 yards on a season-high 19 carries against Washington, then produced a season-high 116 yards on just 13 carries in last week's rout of the Rams.

It was Hearst's first 100-yard game since December of last year. The 49ers are now 14-1 when Hearst gains 100 yards or more.

"I've heard about that," Hearst said. "I've heard we had pretty good success." When asked if there was a correlation there, Hearst said, "I think so. Does Mooch know that?"

Actually, Niners coach Steve Mariucci is well aware that he has two featured tailbacks vying for one football. But while Barlow has displayed star ability since last spring, Hearst has recently displayed that he, too, still is star quality and deserving of more carries and ostensibly a larger role in the offense than he's getting.

"That's rare," Hearst said of his most recent 100-yard game, the 18th of his career, when he averaged 8.9 yards on his 13 carries. "It's going to be rare to get that few carries and get 100 yards."

So, does Hearst want the ball more? Does he need it more? Hearst takes the team-player approach in his response, but there is a certain restraint in his words.

"I think everybody on the this team wants the ball," Hearst said. "We've got a lot of guys that can make plays with the ball. What's working for us, whatever it is, we should stick with it. All I can do is do what I can do when I've got the ball in my hands. I don't know how it would be if I was to get the ball every carry or every down. But for me, I would feel comfortable doing it."

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