But on the field, the Steelers are giving Barlow the impression that he may not make it past the first round of cuts.
That's how light Barlow's workload has been lately.
"Physically, I feel good. I feel better than I have in a long time," Barlow said on Saturday. "But I didn't get no reps today and I don't know why. Maybe coach wanted to take a different look. You've got to ask him why."
Running backs coach Kirby Wilson wasn't around to answer the question. And the next day, Sunday, the elusive coach again bounced off the field ahead of reporters. Barlow saw a bit more action on Sunday. The previous day, during an extended 9-on-7 run-game drill, the order of the tailbacks was: Willie Parker, Najeh Davenport, Carey Davis, Gary Russell, Verron Haynes, Barlow, Dan Kreider and Larry Croom.
That put Barlow at sixth-team tailback, just ahead of the blocking fullback. And Barlow's carry in the drill was his only touch of the day.
On Sunday, Barlow did receive two reps during the team scrimmages, but both were with the backups. He did not appear in any of the six goal-line reps and he doesn't understand why.
"In my mind, I've always been a starter and that's how I prepare myself mentally and that's how I try to take my reps, as a starter," he said. "I asked him today, but … you'll have to ask him yourself."
The problem may have begun with Barlow's poor blocking performance during Friday night's blitz drill with the linebackers. He's also been tentative going through holes and one newspaper report indicated the Steelers are less than pleased with his character.
Wilson, the new RB coach, is a fanatic about blitz pick-up. Earlier in the week he had commented on his group of running backs this way:
"Najeh is really an outstanding pass protector. Carey Davis is doing some really good things. John Kuhn is really a better pass protector than he's given credit for."
Wilson also said of Russell, the free-agent rookie from Minnesota: "He's shown he's got an appetite for violence right now."
Willie Parker also drew Wilson's praise. When asked specifically about Parker, Wilson called him "an ultimate warrior."
Wilson went on about Parker: "He's got the heart of a lion and he relishes every opportunity to get better. He thrives on fear and that's what keeps him going. You don't have to motivate Willie. It's very important to him. He's got a lot of pride and he wants to be the best, he wants to win every drill. He's a self-motivated guy. You don't have to light a match under him. It's already lit when he walks out on the football field. He's definitely one of my favorites because of the size factor. You always root for the little guy and the underdog."
Parker showed his ferociousness and blocking "want-to" in the DBs-on-RBs blitz drill Sunday afternoon. The mouthiest DB, Tyrone Carter, pushed Parker after Parker had stopped Carter cold. Parker pushed him back and the two went facemask-to-facemask and a fight appeared imminent, but did not materialize.
"I got a shot at him, but we're talking so much it's going to be like that," Parker said. "But that's my boy. He's not a troublemaker. He's just got a lot of mouth and I was trying to hit it."
With Parker showing the heart to block as if he's one of the bigger backs – i.e. Davenport, Davis, Kuhn, Haynes and even Russell – the tone has been set at the position. Even Barlow stepped up and stoned a DB (Anthony Madison) in his one and only rep during Sunday's blitz pick-up. However, it may be a case of too little, too late for the hometown kid.