Look for an edge. Any edge. If the Eagles are right about Kenjon Barner, they've acquired a player who can be explosive in the return game and versatile out of the backfield.
The move to acquire Barner via a trade with Carolina late on Tuesday night makes for an interesting, down-to-the-wire scenario at several positions as the preseason gets down to the nitty gritty.
Chip Kelly knows all about Barner, having coached him at Oregon. Barner was a first-team All America there in his senior season of 2012, rushing for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns. Barner's transition to the NFL hasn't been easy. He was sidelined with an ankle injury for much of his rookie season after the Panthers made him a sixth-round draft pick, and Barner's preseason numbers are only 8 rushing yards on eight attempts.
But maybe returning to Kelly and the system -- or at least a version of the one used at Oregon -- will provide Barner with some confidence and success. He can return kickoffs and punts and he can move around the formation on the offensive side of the ball. Barner also potentially helps as a four-unit contributor on special teams.
The Eagles like very much what they have at running back, so Barner adds to the mix. He's added 15 pounds of muscle since his rookie season to have more production after contact. Can Barner win a roster spot? Maybe so. The Eagles are plenty banged up in the backfield. Chris Polk said that he will not play vs. the Steelers. Matthew Tucker and David Fluellen (Updated: Fluellen was released on Wednesday) are question marks for Thursday's game, so Barner could get a few touches.
Another area for Barner to show what he can do is in the kick return game. The Eagles have Darren Sproles, yes, but how much will they use him on kickoffs and in the punt return game? Can Barner provide the explosiveness the Eagles are looking for on kicks?
For the cost of a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2015 -- and the condition, reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, is that the Eagles will lose a draft pick if Barner is on the team's 46-man active roster for at least four games in 2014 -- the Eagles have a two-game window during which they can take an extended look at Barner and see how he fits into this picture.
For players like Damaris Johnson and Henry Josey and so many others on the roster coming off good performances in preseason games, the reminder is that there is no such thing as a safety zone in the NFL. There is always going to be competition lurking.
Trading for Barner was the second move of the day for the Eagles, who earlier on Tuesday released linebacker Jason Phillips. Signed last year as an unrestricted free agent and viewed as a piece in the special teams puzzle, Phillips lost 2013 to a knee injury and didn't impress the coaching staff enough to stick. The Eagles have been outstanding on special teams through two preseason games, and they've got some young linebackers they want to take a long look at in the next two games, so Phillips was a casualty.
There is going to be a lot happening as the roster trims to 75 players on Tuesday and then 53 a week from Saturday. The goal of preseason is to put together the best 53 players, no matter how the players are acquired.
Barner has a chance to earn a spot, and he knows he'll have to hit the ground running very fast when he gets to town and puts on a uniform on Thursday night. There is no grace period here. It's time to show up and win a roster job, and for those already here, the task remains the same: Win every day and make tomorrow even better.
He was a star in college, but the NFL hasn't been as kind. Barner returns to a comfort zone, of sorts, as he steps back into an offensive system that served him so well. Is this the spark that he needs to launch his NFL career? We'll find out in the course of the next nine days as Barner gets his roster tryout with the Eagles.