Barner gets chance to impress Eagles coaches
Kenjon Barner topped the Eagles' running back depth chart on Tuesday, and Chip Kelly was nowhere in sight. With Ryan Mathews ill and Darren Sproles training in California, Barner became the Eagles' top running back at the beginning of the second week of organized team activities. The 27-year-old has impressed in an Eagles uniform before - he returned two punts
Kenjon Barner topped the Eagles' running back depth chart on Tuesday, and Chip Kelly was nowhere in sight.
With Ryan Mathews ill and Darren Sproles training in California, Barner became the Eagles' top running back at the beginning of the second week of organized team activities. The 27-year-old has impressed in an Eagles uniform before - he returned two punts for touchdowns last preseason, and he averaged 4.4 yards per carry during the second half of the season. But his next act could be shedding any suggestion that his spot on the roster was solely the creation of the coach he starred for in college.
"That's what people outside of here say," Barner said. "I'm a football player. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't a football player. I wouldn't have been drafted if I wasn't a football player. Anybody who says that's 'Chip Kelly's guy' - no, I'm a football player."
Barner is a name to remember as the Eagles search for production at a position that remains one of the biggest question marks on the roster. Mathews and Sproles moved up the depth chart after the Eagles dealt DeMarco Murray in March, leaving Barner competing with fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood and undrafted rookies Byron Marshall and Cedric O'Neal for playing time. Mathews, Sproles, and Marshall were absent Tuesday, giving Barner more chances to impress the new coaching staff.
"It's a great opportunity," Barner said. "Go out there and continue to show what you can do and continue to make plays and constantly have your name in the coach's mind."
An all-American at Oregon, Barner was the Carolina Panthers' sixth-round pick in 2013. He had only six carries as a rookie and was traded to the Eagles during the 2014 preseason. An injury in the preseason finale kept him from roster consideration, and he eventually joined the Eagles' practice squad in November 2014.
After a standout 2015 preseason in which Barner excelled as a returner and displayed versatility on offense, he made the 53-man roster behind three running backs who earned Pro Bowl spots. He did not contribute much until the second half of the year, but it was enough that Howie Roseman mentioned Barner when discussing the Eagles' running backs during the league meetings in March.
Barner noted that it's "not the first time" he's been a first-team running back, so he didn't make a fuss about the designation. It's too soon for judgments before pads come on and there's contact, but Barner has displayed quickness and catching ability that would make him fit in Doug Pederson's offense.
He said that last season gave him confidence that he's an NFL player, and his maturity at 27 surfaces in the way he learns the offense and studies when he returns home from work. Barner has also focused on nutrition this offseason after a January chat with Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. Among the changes has been reducing the amount of sweets he eats.
It's a crucial offseason in his career. Entering his fourth year as a fringe player, Barner might not have many more chances to become a fixture on a team. Barner turns to veterans such as Sproles and safety Chris Maragos for guidance, and his approach this offseason has caught the attention of teammates.
"He's hungry," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "Sproles hasn't been here and they're trying to limit Ryan a little bit, so Kenjon knows he has an amazing opportunity. He came in last year and made some plays, showed explosiveness when he had the ball. He's made plays, he was a great college running back, so you know the talent's there, and it's just about having the opportunity. I think he's going to really embrace it."
The opportunities could be limited when Mathews and Sproles return. Barner also needs to hold off Smallwood, who caught Pederson's attention last week. But the chance is there for Barner to stick and prove that his spot on the team went beyond the Kelly connection.
"It's just knowing who I am and what I am," Barner said. "That's everyone else's opinion outside of this locker room. Inside of this locker room, you know exactly who guys are, you know exactly what their capabilities are. It's not a chip on my shoulder. Yes, I went to Oregon. Yes, I played under Chip. I love Chip to death. But I'm a football player. . . . I'm not going to let anyone place me in a box."
Wide receiver Rueben Randle had gallbladder surgery and missed practice Tuesday, along with Mathews. Linebacker Jordan Hicks returned to full-team work after missing last Tuesday's session with tightness in his leg. Kicker Cody Parkey is attempting field goals while returning from a hamstring injury. Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (leg) and JaCorey Shepherd (knee) remained out of team drills. Sproles and Fletcher Cox continue to miss voluntary workouts.