49ers put RB Barlow on IR, sign CB Richard

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers put Kevan Barlow on injured reserve Wednesday, but coach Mike Nolan thinks
the running back has a bright future with the club.

Barlow has missed three of the last four games with a lingering
knee injury, and the joint swelled up again this week. The 49ers
made the move so they could sign cornerback Kris Richard for
Sunday's game against Houston.

Barlow was held out of last Saturday's victory at St. Louis,
where Maurice Hicks and rookie Frank Gore combined for 177 yards
rushing and three touchdowns.

Barlow finished the season with 581 yards rushing -- averaging
just 3.3 yards per carry -- and three touchdowns, somewhat
disappointing numbers for a running back whose job security was in
jeopardy when the 49ers were serious contenders for the top overall
draft pick, expected to be USC running back Reggie Bush.

But Nolan has been pleased with Barlow, describing the sometimes
controversial running back as "a model citizen." The coach also
sees no reason Barlow won't be back with the club next season.

"He certainly looked better to me than he did a year ago,"
Nolan said. "I thought in the way he handled himself, carried
himself and responded to all situations, he did a good job. I
anticipated more issues, and I never got any.

"Kevan is not a problem child. He just needs structure around
him, as a lot of people do. I think Bish [running backs coach
Bishop Harris] has been a great match for him. He wanted some
direction, some guidance. He needs a parent to coach him. He
doesn't need a pal. I think that's why he's responded so well."

Richard was a backup in Seattle for three seasons before getting
traded to Miami in training camp. The Dolphins cut him before the
regular season began, but the 49ers (3-12) needed immediate help in
the defensive secondary.

Five cornerbacks -- starters Shawntae Spencer (quad) and Bruce
Thornton (knee), along with rookie Derrick Johnson (stinger), B.J.
Tucker (finger) and benched veteran Ahmed Plummer (ankle) -- might
be unavailable or limited because of injuries.

Spencer and Tucker are expected to start at cornerback, with
Tucker making his first NFL start. Plummer is thought to be
essentially healthy, but is deep in Nolan's doghouse after a slow
recovery from ankle surgery.