Running back Kenjon Barner was back home in Tustin, California when he received a text message at around 5 a.m. on Monday morning. It was from Darren Sproles revealing that he had torn his ACL (in addition to breaking his forearm) in Sunday's win over the Giants.
"It's terrible," Barner said of Sproles' injury. "That's my guy ... one of the best guys I've met in the league."
Barner was in Philadelphia from 2014-16, first on the practice squad then on the active roster over the past two seasons when he played in 23 games contributing on both offense and special teams. He views Sproles as a mentor, someone who has shown him the ropes of how to make it in the NFL.
"How to be a professional. How to carry myself. How to approach the game. How to approach film. How to approach meetings," Barner said of what he's learned from Sproles. "That dude has taught me a lot."
Sproles' injury provided an opportunity, however, for Barner, who spent the preseason with the Los Angeles Chargers and was released during the final roster cutdown. On Tuesday, Barner worked out for the Eagles and was signed to a one-year deal later in the evening.
After Wednesday's practice, Barner settled in a new locker stall in the far, left corner of the room against the wall in an area typically reserved for the linebackers. His No. 34 jersey was no longer available, so he's now sporting No. 38.
It doesn't matter. After watching from home the first three weeks of the NFL season, Barner is glad to have a home. And coincidentally, he gets to return to his actual home of California to face, of all teams, the Chargers this weekend.
"It makes you hungry because you're watching guys play, something that you want to be a part of, something that you want to do but you can't because you're not there. It makes you drive, push a lot harder and grind for it," Barner said. "I'm excited to be here. I'm blessed to be here. I'm thankful for the opportunity that I have."
Barner is here to help fill the void left by Sproles in the punt return game. Last season, Barner averaged 30.8 yards per kickoff return featuring a long of 61 yards. He did return a pair of punts, taking one back for a 22-yard gain.
"Basically he's done it in real games," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Just it will be a great opportunity for him, and then the confidence there that he has done that."
What's the key to being a punt returner?
"Listen to everything Sproles told me," Barner said. "That guy has taught me a lot. I just plan to put it to use whenever and if they choose to use me."
Barner can also provide a scouting report on this week's opponent and prepare his teammates for the unique environment that they will play in on Sunday. The Chargers' temporary stadium, the StubHub Center, seats around 27,000 fans on gameday.
"Small, very intimate setting," Barner said. "The fans are right there. You can hear everything."
The Eagles prepare to square off against the Chargers for the first time in four years. Check out some great shots from Wednesday's practice.