Regardless of the offense, Kenjon Barner believes he can be a force in the backfield.
After seeing little action during his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers, Barner took on a solid role for the Eagles late last season. With running back Ryan Mathews inactive for three weeks with a concussion, Barner stepped up and in those three games registering 106 rushing yards on 25 carries. Last year's small sample size of productivity has the third-year running back itching to prove during Training Camp that he can handle meaningful touches for the Eagles this upcoming season.
Helping his case, Barner's sound performance early has caught the attention of the Eagles' coaching staff. During the team's first live-hitting practice of Training Camp on Wednesday, Barner received an added workload with Mathews and Wendell Smallwood sidelined due to injury.
"I thought he handled it well. His conditioning is good, it's improving. He got a little tired by the end of practice, but that's the nature of the camp practice," head coach Doug Pederson said.
"Overall, I thought he did a good job. This will be good film for him to watch, good practice tape for him to watch to be able to make the necessary corrections. But he's headed in the right direction."
Barner tacked together a driven offseason and focused on making strides physically – and it shows. The California native bulked up quite a bit showing a commitment to taking care of his body.
"I changed my diet. That was the main thing. Focused on eating right, eating healthy, eating the food that my body needs not what I want," Barner said. "I did a lot of powerlifting (which) was completely different from what I've done in the past, getting some base in my legs and a solid foundation."
Barner's football foundation is every bit as solid. During his four year tenure at the University of Oregon, he set the school record for most rushing yards in a game with 321, finished second in career rushing yards (3,623) and tied the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 21. He ended his collegiate career earning first-team All-Pac-12 and first-team All-America honors as a senior.
Take a closer look at how the rookies are adjusting to life in the NFL during Week 2 of Eagles Camp practice.
However, Barner's success throughout college and in the NFL has often times been linked to former coach Chip Kelly and his offense. Not only was Kelly the head coach at Oregon during Barner's four years as a Duck, but the two reunited in Philadelphia in 2014. Barner expressed full cognizance of the media grouping him as a "Chip" guy, but wasn't worried about his future in Philadelphia after Kelly was relieved of his duties.
"That didn't concern me. I loved Chip but you understand that it's a business at the end of the day," Barner said.
"You guys like to label me as a Chip guy, but I wouldn't have gotten drafted and I wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to play last year if I couldn't play the game of football. Once he got fired, I wasn't worried about anything. I'm a football player."
Nonetheless, Barner remains concerted on refining his game and tuning out conversations revolving around last year's team.
"My dad taught me as a young man, 'Stay in your lane.' You can't worry about a situation that's no longer yours. My situation right now is Doug Pederson and this offense," he said.
Barner intends to show he can be effective in an offense other than one led by Kelly. And the coaches here like what they've seen thus far.
"He's an explosive guy with the ball in his hands," Pederson stated. "I love the fact that anytime you put the ball in his hands he has the ability to make a big play for you. He's shown that here in the first week of camp."
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich heard a lot of buzz inside the building about Barner early in the offseason.
"Kenjon, I think is a really good, all-around back. He can make you miss in the open field. I like his vision. He's doing great in protections. I've been very impressed with him the whole offseason," Reich said.
Naturally, Barner believes he can progress in Pederson's offense. During OTAs, the team would watch film from Pederson's previous stint as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs and developed a sense for how they would be asked to play. The running back was most impressed by the way Pederson got the Chiefs to perform once its star rusher Jamaal Charles went down early in the season due to injury.
"From being a fan of a game, (the way) they just kept it going, shuffled their backs in and picked up the slack right where JC left off, being able to be productive in the system without their main guy," Barner said.
It's safe to say Barner won't be the main guy in the backfield for the Eagles this season with Mathews returning as the team's top rushing option and Darren Sproles fresh off a one-year contract extension. But fortunately, Barner is far from discouraged.
"There's never been a time when I've been in the league that I haven't wanted to leave my mark. I don't think you come (here) sitting back just happy with being here. I'm not that guy," Barner said. "I love to play the game of football and my job is to go out there and continue to capitalize on the opportunities they give me and put my hat up at the end of the day."
The Eagles' first preseason game is next Thursday. Barner should expect a few opportunities to showcase his upside.