Early Birds: Kenjon Barner competing for 4th RB spot; a 2014 draft pick impresses; practice schedule with Ravens
1) Kenjon Barner spent the final two months of last season on the Eagles' practice squad, where he learned under LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. But Chip Kelly already knew Barner from college, when Barner starred at Oregon with Kelly as head coach.
Barner had one unproductive season in Carolina before the Eagles acquired him last summer. He was injured in the preseason and now must try to make the team on a roster that might not have space for another running back. But it helps to rush for 4.8 yards per carry with one touchdown, and return a punt 92 yards for a score.
"If he continues to perform like that, we have to fit him in," Kelly said after the Eagles' 36-10 win over Indianapolis on Sunday. "We are going to find a way to keep the best 53 players here, but when you get an opportunity to do something, you step up and do it."
There's complicated roster math at play here, too. The Eagles have three running backs certain to make the roster: DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles. They can keep a fourth, which they did at times in 2013. In fact, if Chris Polk were still on the team, they would have kept a fourth.
But that roster spot likely comes from tight end, where the Eagles kept four last year. With Zach Ertz injured, the Eagles might want to keep an extra body at that position to start the season. The Eagles can keep four at both spots, but they'd likely need to go light on the line in that scenario.
Barner can help on special teams, too, although he won't wrestle the punt-return duties from Sproles. But Sproles has helped mentor Barner. The two running backs were talking before the game Sunday when Sproles told Barner that Colts punter Pat McAfee could outkick his coverage, allowing a good chance for a return. That's what happened on Barner's return, which came on a 65-yard punt.
"Our guys did a great job on their gunners," Barner said. "Once I was able to see they were taken care of, it was kind of catch the ball, do what you can."
He said plays like that are "extremely important" to try to make the team, but he's not trying to figure out what roster spot he would get to make the 53-man roster.
"Our room is stacked, so I'm not thinking about how much that helped me today," Barner said. "My job is to go out there and play football."
2) Another player who helped himself Sunday was safety Ed Reynolds, who had two interceptions. Reynolds is another 2014 practice-squad player, but his spot on the team was somewhat of a disappointment. The Eagles spent a 2014 fifth-round pick on Reynolds. He missed time in the spring while finishing the academic calendar at Stanford, and he could not distinguish himself last summer.
But one year on practice squad and a full offseason have helped this summer, when he has impressed Kelly.
"It's not all new for him," Kelly said. "He spent the entire offseason here, was here every day. We weren't allowed to be with him until April 20, but he was in the building working on his own and I think it's showing right now."
With Earl Wolff and Jerome Couplin absent on Sunday, Reynolds played the most snaps of anyone on the team. He needs to continue on this pace for the rest of the month, but there are talent and size there that the Eagles liked during the 2014 draft. It might finally bear fruit this season.
"Coming into this year, I just wanted to make sure that I came out and made an impression," Reynolds said. "I felt a lot better this year just because I was able to participate in all of the spring, and all of training camp. It's about staying healthy and doing what I need to do. Today is just the first day of trying to stack up good days."
3) The Eagles practice on Tuesday for the first time since the first preseason game. It is also the last time before the second preseason game that they practice on their own. The Baltimore Ravens come to Philadelphia on Wednesday, and the teams will have three days of practice before they play Saturday. Don't expect Friday to be a heavy practice, so most of the work will likely come on Wednesday and Thursday.