As the Eagles soak up yesterday’s victory over Arizona, there may be no player more deserving of a moment in the sun than Kenjon Barner. After the team opted against re-signing the pending free agent at the end of last season, Barner found himself competing with the L.A Chargers during the offseason and preseason. Little did he know that a few weeks later, he would return onto the field where he broke out a little over one year ago.
The Eagles backfield was hurting. No Darren Sproles, no Wendell Smallwood, no Donnel Pumphrey. Only veteran rusher LeGarrette Blount and UDFA Corey Clement remained of the five backs who originally entered the season on the roster. The Eagles had a choice. Do they call up Byron Marshall, or do they look elsewhere?
Barner carried the ball 14 times for 27 total yards for the Chargers in preseason, but it wasn’t enough to see him through the final wave of cuts.
The team announced that they had re-signed Barner prior to their showdown with the team he was poached from. While it seems like a strange circle of events, it felt like it was meant to be for the 27-year old.
“God is good, man. God is truly amazing. I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity.” Barner told reporters after the Arizona victory. “I said that when I first got here and I continue to say it. I’m just thankful for the opportunity and extremely blessed to be back here with these guys, these coaches, this organization. It’s just an amazing feeling when you have a group of guys behind you that believe in you.”
As one of the last Oregon holdovers from the Chip Kelly regime, Barner played in just 8.7 percent of snaps last year, despite his production when he on the field. After breaking out against the Steelers for a career high 42-yards and his first NFL touchdown, Barner showed an ability to be explosive with the ball in his hands, leading the team with 4.8 yards per carry. He also averaged nearly 31 yards per kick return.
However, as the season went on and the committee effort began to dwindle, the Eagles backfield seemed to turn to Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews more and more often. Barner was lost in the depth chart behind rookie Wendell Smallwood and failed to burst onto the scene in the limited action he did have in the weeks after those strong games against Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
When depth seemed to lack and Barner had a golden opportunity to shine, that chance was stripped away with a season ending hamstring injury which he suffered against the Ravens. Barner ended his final season as an Eagle with 129 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 attempts.
He returned to L.A as a member of the Eagles and factored exclusively in the return game. But one week later, he returned to the stadium where in week three last season, he broke off a 42 yard game and recorded his first NFL touchdown.
Barner burst through a small window and took an early punt 76 yards down the field to earn a roar from the Philadelphia faithful. He ended the day with 110 punt return yards overall, but even went on to be a factor in the backfield.
Barner would amass five rushes for 23 yards in the win over Arizona, picking up right where he left off for the Eagles. In his last appearance, he totalled 25 receiving yards against the Ravens, adding 6 more on the ground. Moving forward, it almost feels as if Barner was supposed to return to the backfield. The problem was never that Barner wasn’t productive, it was simply that the Eagles craved backs with specialized roles in order to create a dominant effort by committee.
But during his time in Philadelphia, Barner answered the call whenever he was thrown onto the field and helped add a level of depth in the backfield and explosiveness in the return game. Philadelphia came calling in their hour of need, and Barner once again stepped up to the plate…safe in the knowledge that it was meant to be.
“I still worked out, but the crazy part about when I was released was that everybody was looking at me as if I was crazy. I wasn’t down about it; I wasn’t worried about it. I worked out and stayed in shape. I’m a firm believer in God and I know that the story is already written. He has a plan for your life and it was going to be what it will be. It might not have been football. If it was, my whole approach to it was, ‘what now?’ If it’s not [football], what is it and place me where you need me to be. And I ended up back here.”
Some things are bigger than football. Some things may not make sense at first, but eventually unfold and click into place as the plan that was supposed to come to fruition all along. Barner is a Philadelphia Eagle once again and is soaring in front of the crowd that spurred him on when he first came into the league.
This is a fresh opportunity for Barner, a second wind if you will. It’s a new era. The situation is different. There is a huge window for Barner to step up and earn his long-term future with the team who plucked him from the claws of Carolina. The future at running back is uncertain, but the heart of Kenjon Barner is not.
Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports