There sure are a LOT of question marks surrounding RB depth charts this season. I know it's still early, but I just wanted to post a few bits of info on some of the aforementioned ???'s.
Hearst / Barlow
The Press Democrat reports San Francisco 49ers GM Terry Donahue gave a lukewarm indication the RB Garrison Hearst may not be released. Third-year RB Kevan Barlow is expected to become the team's featured back this season, which would leave Hearst as a very expensive ($2.2 million) backup. "I'm planning on him being on the roster," Donahue said of Hearst. "Things happen, but we're not looking to replace Garrison."
Barlow is likely to get a lot more work this season -- his third year in the league. Barlow split playing time almost 50-50 with veteran Garrison Hearst last season. Hearst was more productive in the passing game, but the 49ers believe Barlow can give them more of a big-play threat. They also are concerned that Hearst, 32, might be near the end of the line. (Ira Miller/TSN)
Fantasy Spin: Barlow should be a good No. 2 back as they phase out Hearst, and he has potential to be a top fantasy starter in the future.
Zereoue / Bettis
ESPN's Len Pasquarelli reports people who have seen Pittsburgh Steelers RB Jerome Bettis insist the declining tailback is in the best condition that he has been in for several years. In the past, such endorsements have hardly proven on-target, so forgive the accompanying skepticism, please. In this case, though, there are multiple sources, all of them outside the parameters of Bettis' usual propaganda machine. Here's hoping it's true this time, since The Bus is one of the NFL's class acts, not to mention a media darling.
Coach Bill Cowher will decide after the draft whether to retain veteran tailback Jerome Bettis. Amos Zereoue is a much better fit for Pittsburgh's new pass-happy offense and will be worth an early-round selection if Cowher names him the starter and releases Bettis.
The Boston Globe reports Patriots RB Antowain Smith left the team's strength and conditioning program temporarily to attend to personal business, but according to his agent, Kennard Maguire, ''he'll be returning as soon as possible.'' This appears to be a big offseason for Smith. ''I think Antowain knows he has to re-prove himself to the team that he's their top back,'' said Maguire. Maguire also revealed that Smith had a nagging back injury all last season that may have affected his play.
James Stewart / Shawn Bryson
There will be some subtle changes in how the offense operates under Steve Mariucci, including a greater emphasis on the running game. Mornhinweg wanted to run the ball but often abandoned it for a variety of reasons. Mariucci, who will use a committee of backs to do the job, will stick with it. (Tom Kowalski/TSN)
Fantasy Spin: It's one of those good news/bad news deals for Stewart. The Lions won't deviate from their game plan of running the ball, but he will have to share his carries with Shawn Bryson and possibly others. Instead of being a borderline starter like he was last season, Stewart will be a third or fourth running back on most teams.
I know there are plenty more. I'll post em as I find them.