Pederson: I’ve ‘Really Been Excited About’ Barner
Bennie Logan’s gift sits in a cubbyhole in the upper left part of Kenjon Barner’s locker, placed at about eye level for the 5-9 running back. It’s a miniature alligator head and a neat adornment, but to Barner, it’s more than just a cool conversation starter. It’s a reminder.
“Be hungry,” Barner says. “I gotta eat.”
That mentality seems to be paying off for the 27-year-old, whom Doug Pederson says he’s “really been excited about” because of Barner’s performance in OTAs. Barner is considered a “Chip Kelly guy” after playing at Oregon and being acquired by the former Eagles coach, but he appears to have one of the best opportunities of his career to be a part of the running back rotation in 2016.
Although Darren Sproles is reportedly slated to attend mandatory minicamp this week, he skipped all of the voluntary workouts, which left the other running backs at the NovaCare Complex with more repetitions.
“The numbers aren’t what they would be [if Sproles attended OTAs], so you definitely get more of an opportunity to go out and showcase what you can do,” Barner said. “When DeMarco [Murray] was here, you knew where the carries were going to go. Even now, you have Ryan [Matthews] and you have Sproles, but at the same time, nobody comes into the offseason saying, ‘I want to be a backup,’ regardless of who’s in front of them. So you go out and practice as if you’re the starter.”
According to Barner, he’s benefited from adding muscle, becoming more of a student of the game and having Duce Staley constantly in his ear. Pederson also explained how he can evaluate the running backs with the various limitations they have at this point in the offseason.
“Just from the mental aspect of things,” he said. “Blitz pick-up, assignments, they can detail their footwork. Are they hitting the exact hole? Where are their eyes and are they reading the proper down-lineman or linebacker on certain runs? How well are they running routes out of the backfield? Those are things that you can do now, obviously without pads. Now once we get into pads during training camp, the physical nature of that position really begins to take over.”
Fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood has also benefited from Sproles’ absence and impressed Pederson thus far. Pederson raved about how the rookie’s “great hands” are “just a gift that he has,” and how both he and Barner have played well during the spring.
However, the running back the Eagles will likely lean on the most is Ryan Mathews. Although the 28-year-old averaged more than five yards per carry last season, he was once again limited by injuries. Throughout his six-year career, Mathews has played all 16 games just once.
“It’s football. It’s a contact sport. Some people are luckier than others,” Mathews said. “I think my running style has a lot to do with it too, but I can’t change that. It’s just who I am. I’m going to keep running like that. I’m not going to change it.”