Jets RB Kevan Barlow is fighting the other young RB's for playing time. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
The Jets had hoped to find the successor to the injured Curtis Martin with the acquisition of Kevan Barlow but is the move just a quick fix for a franchise headed towards rebuilding? Barlow was traded by the San Francisco 49ers to the Jets for a fourth round draft pick back on Aug. 20. This of course was less than a week after the Jets had traded for and eventually voided the trade with the Cleveland Browns for Lee Suggs.
Barlow was originally drafted back in 2001 by the 49ers in the third round out of the University of Pittsburgh. Ironically, the same college that Curtis Martin attended. He started out as a backup to Garrison Hearst. During the 2003 season, Barlow rushed for a career high 1,024 yards and had a 5.1 yards per carry average. After Hearst was released following the 2003 season, Barlow was given the reins as the starting running back.
With the whole 49ers franchise rebuilding during the 2004 season, Barlow had trouble as the featured back. He rushed for only 822 yards in 15 games and the team suffered going only 2-14, tying a franchise worst. The team started to realize that Barlow might not be the answer at running back and drafted Frank Gore out of the University of Miami to serve as Barlow’s backup.
Barlow had been mentioned in the rumor mill to be headed toward the Jets, but was told by 49ers coach Mike Nolan a week before he was traded to not pay attention and that he wouldn’t be traded. Barlow summed it up best after the trade saying, “I guess things change in a week.”
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said at the time of the acquisition that, “we have been impressed with Kevan’s production in both the running and passing game. We feel Kevan will complement our running back group, and he will come in and compete for playing time.”
49ers head coach Mike Nolan had said that, “this is a great opportunity for Kevan because of New York’s need at running back. Kevan has been committed to our program and done well. With the depth at running back we felt we could make this move.”
“Yesterday I was getting ready to play the Raiders and today I’m a Jet,” said Barlow after his first practice with the Jets. He has later since said that he has “felt like a Jet since I was traded for by (Eric) Mangini and Tannenbaum.” After his first practice, Barlow was given the next day off by head coach Eric Mangini to recover after a hectic 48 hours.
Barlow commented on not having enough practice with the Jets by saying that, “I’m going to have to get my work in practice, that’s where I’m going to have to try and get most of my work. As far as work that’s going to come throughout the season. You just have to learn on the move and just keep running and running, run on the ground.”
Barlow was set to replace the injured Martin who began the season on the physically unable to perform list with and injured knee. CuMart’s status for this season and beyond is still up in the air. He’s eligible to be activated after this week’s game against Miami. Barlow is a huge fan of Martin having grown up idolizing the league’s fourth all-time leading rusher. It remains to be seen how well Barlow will perform with the Jets, but Mangini likes what he has seen so far from Barlow.
Mangini remarked that some of the reasons why he liked Barlow was that fact that, “he is a bigger back, he catches the ball out of the backfield, and he’s got the ability to make people miss.” Mangini went further to add, that Barlow “adds depth and competition to the position.” That competition would continue for the rest of training camp and into the regular season opener against Tennessee.
After Barlow came into the game midway through the first quarter, it was clear that he was the main man. He became the starter in week 3. However since then, the emergence of rookie RB Leon Washington puts his status as the starter somewhat in jeopardy. Washington is coming off a 101 yard performance in Jacksonville and is averaging 4 yards per carry. Second year man, Cedric Houston had also been showing promise, averaging 4.2 yards per carry before injuring his knee last week.
Now after week 5 of the regular season, despite only 108 yards rushing with an average per carry of 2.9 yards, Barlow says he feels more confident about his new playbook and his new surroundings. “I’m coming along, things are starting to settle down.” He also admitted to being discombobulated at first, “my mind was spinning at first.” He now feels that things are going along well especially with the chance to “sit down and focus on the game plan,” now that he is comfortable with the team and playbook.
To start the season, the team’s run game suffered as Barlow had been learning the new offense. Mangini has assembled a running back team while waiting for one person to prove he can be the featured back. Barlow is not used to a running back by committee, but “will do whatever it takes to get a ‘W’.” He likes his new head coach Mangini, calling him a “passionate guy” and likes the overall presence of the Jets organization and is happy to be here. As each week progresses and Barlow feels ever more at home, the Jets will see that they made a good investment for the future and that he can handle the reigns of being the starting running back.
Barlow is now in his sixth NFL season. He is listed at 6-1, 234 pounds, and has played in 75 career games, with 31 starts, and has gained 3,722 yards on 928 carries. He has a 4.0 career rushing average and has scored 26 touchdowns. In 2005 he rushed for 581 yards on 176 carries. He totaled a season-high 101 yards on 26 carries vs. Tampa Bay (10-30) to mark his fifth career 100-yard game.
Barlow vows to work hard to improve his game and wants to be a integral cog in Mangini’s new Jets long into the future.