Gets encore after 154-yard debut

Updated: December 9, 2003, 2:52 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

San Francisco 49ers: Coming off an impressive 154-yard performance in last Sunday's rout of the Arizona Cardinals, tailback Kevan Barlow will earn a second straight start this week when the Niners face the Cincinnati Bengals.

Barlow got his first regular-season start against the Cardinals when Garrison Hearst had arthroscopic surgery last week to repair cartilage damage to his right knee. Hearst will sit out the game at Cincinnati as well and, while he is expected to return for the final two contests of the season, Barlow could remain the starter even then.

Because of age and salary cap ramifications, this is expected to be Hearst's final season with the 49ers. Barlow, a three-year veteran, has reiterated several times this season that he is the team's full-time tailback of the future.

The former University of Pittsburgh standout, whose first two season in the NFL were as spotty as his college career, has carried 139 times for 745 yards and three touchdowns this year. Hearst has rushed for 768 yards and three scores on 178 carries, as the two have split time under first-year coach Dennis Erickson.

Barlow acknowledged that playing the full game on Sunday -- much of it with a dislocated pinkie finger on his right hand -- gave him a better feel for the running attack. "I was in a groove," he said.

New York Jets: Defensive end John Abraham, the New York Jets' two-time Pro Bowl performer, will not play in Sunday's contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the team likely will hold him out for the rest of the season as well.

The four-year veteran has missed five of the last six games with a groin injury, and with the playoffs out of reach, Jets officials are leaning heavily toward a prudent approach. Coach Herm Edwards acknowledged that Abraham's rehabilitation is "not coming along as well" as the Jets had anticipated.

Abraham, 25, has appeared in only seven games this season. In addition to the lingering groin injury, Edwards held him out the Oct. 12 game against Buffalo after Abraham was charged with a DUI offense. One of the league's best edge rushers, Abraham has six sacks and 37 tackles in 2003, but three and a half of his sacks came in one game, on Oct. 12 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

As noted last Friday in the "Tip Sheet" column on ESPN.com, Abraham's injury history could be a factor in his future with the team. Abraham will enter the final season of his original contract in 2004 and, in addition to him, the Jets face similar situations with fellow defensive end Shaun Ellis and quarterback Chad Pennington, and might not be able to retain all three players.

If he sits out the final three games of the season, Abraham will have missed 20 games in four years. He was sidelined 10 games in his 2000 rookie season after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. By comparison, Ellis, who is having a breakout campaign with 11 sacks, has never missed a game.

Baltimore Ravens: Linebacker Terrell Suggs, the NFL's leading sacker among rookies, will get his first start of the season for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, replacing the injured Adalius Thomas. A four-year veteran, Thomas probably will miss the rest of the regular season after surgery to repair a fractured right elbow, but Baltimore officials are hopeful he will be able to return for the playoffs.

They will withhold a decision on whether to place Thomas on injured reserve until there is more information about the severity of the fractured elbow. Thomas has been a steady player in the Ravens' 3-4 front and is the club's leading tackler on special teams.

The 10th overall choice in the draft, and the higher of the Ravens two selections in the top round, Suggs has 10 sacks and has forced four fumbles. The former Arizona State star has been principally used at defensive end in "nickel" situations. He got plenty of time at linebacker in training camp and the Ravens staff has decided to move him into the lineup instead of the more experienced Cornell Brown.

Green Bay Packers: For now, at least, Sylvester Croom will continue to split his time between his duties as the running backs coach for the Packers, and the new Mississippi State head coach. That could change, however, in coming weeks.

Packers coach Mike Sherman, who is sensitive to Croom's new responsibilities, could release him from the staff before the end of the year. The Packers have brought former tailback Edgar Bennett, the club's director of player development, out of the front office to help assist with the running backs and he could assume those duties full-time.

This week, Croom worked with the Packers on Monday, then left for Starkville, Miss., and will return to Green Bay on Friday.

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