Notebook: Barlow still hoping to be the man
Former Pitt and Peabody High School star Kevan Barlow went to training camp with the San Francisco 49ers this year, hoping he finally would win the starting running back job from Garrison Hearst.
But a hamstring injury set back Barlow's progress, and he finds himself sharing snaps with Hearst, who has started the first nine games and leads the team with 130 carries for 595 yards and three touchdowns.
"I have to go with the flow," said Barlow, who has 98 carries for 427 yards and a touchdown. "That is what they want to do out here. It is kind of the same situation here as it is there in Pittsburgh with Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue. I don't complain, and I got out there and take advantage of my opportunity."
Barlow, a third-round pick in 2001, said he expects the 49ers to choose one feature back next year.
"As a running back, you can't get into a rhythm, rotating back and forth," he said.
He said the situation does have advantages and disadvantages.
"The advantages are that you do not take the pounding that an every-down back takes, and towards the end of the season, you are healthier than the guy who plays every down," Barlow said. "The disadvantage is that you need to get into a groove so you can get a five-yard run and then bust a big one."
Barlow and Zereoue competed against each other when they played for Pitt and West Virginia. Barlow said he last saw Zereoue at Donzi's, a club in Pittsburgh's Strip District, and he joked that he plans to call him this week to make a $500 bet on the Pitt/WVU game Saturday night.
"West Virginia is not going to beat Pitt," Barlow said. "That is a given win. That was an upset last year."
With Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith (pinched nerve in his neck) doubtful for the game against the 49ers, Keydrick Vincent gets at least another week at left guard. It will be his fifth game in a row in the starting lineup, but he hasn't been impressed by his performance.
"I feel like I'm the weak link," Vincent said. "I'm making a lot of mistakes that I don't usually make. Hopefully, I can just keep getting better and better. I have to."
Vincent doesn't know if he will retain his job when Smith comes back; the Steelers could move Alan Faneca from left tackle back to left guard and re-insert Smith at left tackle.
"Whatever they do, I'm glad I got the chance to play a little bit," Vincent said. "This was a great learning experience. I learned a lot of stuff and I'm still learning. Alan teaches me a lot. I'm just still learning, learning on the go."
Offensive line coach Russ Grimm said the team is showing patience with Smith, who has played only three snaps since Sept. 21.
"When Marvel gets (medical) clearance, if it's this week, if it's next week, if it's two weeks from now, it may not be for the rest of the year, but you just take it one week at a time," he said. "Whoever is healthy and ready to roll, that's who we are going with."
Smith practiced in full pads, as Cowher had predicted last week.
Offensive tackle Oliver Ross (ankle) and Bettis (shoulder) missed practice. If Ross and Bettis don't play, tackle Todd Fordham and running backs Zereoue and Verron Haynes will play bigger roles against the 49ers. ... Linebacker Jason Gildon left practice early with the flu.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
The Steelers have had an AFC player of the week on offense (Tommy Maddox), special teams (Antwaan Randle El) and defense (Gildon) this season. Gildon received the honor this week after getting three sacks against the Arizona Cardinals and setting a Steelers career record with 76.
"When it is time to step up and make a statement, we have had some players step up and they made a statement," Cowher said. "Jason definitely was one of them."
49ers coach Dennis Erickson said quarterback Jeff Garcia, who has a left high ankle sprain, is "very doubtful" for the game. Officially, Garcia is questionable. ... Tim Rattay, who was former Steeler Troy Edwards' quarterback at Louisiana Tech, is expected to start. ... Next week won't mark the first time the Steelers played away from home after a Monday night road game. They did it in 1996 and lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 31-17, after beating the Miami Dolphins, 24-17.