Day-After Notes: Barner Making His Case
Chip Kelly said it best after the Eagles’ preseason opener last week against the Colts: “If he continues to perform like that, we have to fit him in.” Well, Coach, Kenjon Barner is continuing to perform like “that,” and you’re going to have to find a way to fit him in.
Six days after returning a punt for a 92-yard touchdown—plus tacking on a nine-yard touchdown run—Barner returned a punt for a 68-yard touchdown against the Ravens. He’s proven to be tough to tackle in the open field and reads his blocks well.
If you look at his college statistics, Barner’s performance is stunning. In 40 punt returns at Oregon, he returned just one for a touchdown. During his junior year, he returned four punts an average of -1.5 yards.
When Barner played eight games for the Carolina Panthers in 2013, he didn’t return a punt even once. So what changed? Well, the obvious: his teammates, most notably of which is Darren Sproles.
“I’m in Darren’s back pocket twenty-four-seven,” Barner said. “Anything that guy tells me, I listen to. For pre-game I was able to watch him and then go back and have about a five-10 minute conversation with him about where the ball was going to drop, how it was going to turn, who was booming it and who wasn’t. Sproles plays a big part in my success in the punt return because he’s always in my head.”
To Sproles, it’s Barner who deserves all of the credit, not himself. But Sproles, who earned Pro Bowl honors as a punt returner in 2014, did explain what Barner’s keys to success have been.
“The main thing has been just catching the ball and going,” Sproles said. “If a punter gives you a line-drive kick like that, the best thing for you to do is catch it and go. Then, you have to find the [closest] gunner and make that first guy miss. If you do that, you have a chance [for a big return] every time.”
FROM SEAHAWK TO BALL HAWK
In 36 career games, Walter Thurmond has just one interception. But the former Seahawk is quickly making a name for himself in Philadelphia as a ball hawk.
A couple of weeks ago, Kelly said Thurmond led the defensive backs in turnovers forced in training camp. Yesterday, the safety intercepted Joe Flacco after Nolan Carroll tipped the ball in the air. Thurmond made the one-handed catch before returning the ball 31 yards.
Bill Davis said he believes Thurmond has a knack for forcing turnovers.
“We think so,” Davis said. “Since day one of [Organized Team Activities] he’s been forcing the offense to turn the ball over. That was a pretty interception, wasn’t it?”
A SECONDARY CONCERN
Speaking of interceptions, Byron Maxwell also picked off Flacco and returned it 31 yards. Maxwell, whom the Eagles signed to a six-year deal worth $63 million in March, was expected to bolster a secondary that was coming off a rough year.
However, the rest of the unit has seemingly improved, too. Malcolm Jenkins is having a noteworthy training camp and has flashed good coverage skills in the preseason. Carroll has been playing well opposite of Maxwell and although it’s unclear who the nickel corner will be, the secondary is clearly less of a concern than it was last season.
“I think they are lactose intolerant in terms of they do not bite the cheese in front of them,” Kelly said. “When they have a deep zone, they play the deep zone. A lot of mistakes we made in some of those deep balls last year were we were just biting either a play action fake or we are biting an underneath route when that’s not our responsibility. I think our guys are playing their responsibility.”