Eagles

Hard to ignore the irony of Kenjon Barner replacing Darren Sproles

Kenjon Barner has always spoken about how influential Darren Sproles was during their three years together.  

So it's hard to ignore the irony.

Barner now has a job because Sproles got hurt.

“I didn’t know it happened, I didn’t see the game," said Barner, who's been out of the league since he was released on Sept. 2 by the Chargers.

"I got a text from Sproles at like 5 in the morning West Coast time [Monday] saying, 'I tore my ACL.' I didn't even know. 

"You hate to see that, especially from a guy who’s one of the best guys I've ever met in the league. So to see him go down like that was terrible. You never want to see any guy go down like that.

“Sproles has been a huge influence on my career and has really helped me a lot. So to see him go down, I wasn’t happy about that."

But he was happy to get a chance to play football again.

Sproles, eighth in NFL history in all-purpose yards, broke his arm and tore his ACL during the Eagles' win over the Giants Sunday at the Linc and is out for the season.

Barner, originally a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2013, got 55 carries playing for both Chip Kelly — his college coach — and Doug Pederson in Philly. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry with two touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 64 yards and returned three punts and 10 kickoffs.

His role Sunday? If he has one, it will likely just be bringing back punts. With LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement, there probably won't be any more carries to go around.

"I'll be ready. I'll be ready," Barner said. "It's not [hard]. I'm a professional. Your job is to get ready and stay ready. If they call my number, I'll be ready."

Barner had a rough summer with the Chargers. He fumbled twice, missed a preseason game with a concussion and averaged just 1.9 yards on 14 carries.

“I’ve been around a little while, so you could kind of see how things go, how things are shaping up," he said. "I wasn’t really surprised [to be released]."

He's been home in Tustin, California, in Orange County, for the last month, working out on his own, hoping for a call.

“It's not a good feeling," he said. "You work out and you want to be involved in this game, so to be at home is never a good feeling."

Without a team, he went to a local field and practiced catching punts.

“I don’t have a [kicking] machine, but I have a friend back home who kicks to me," he said. "He’s not an NFL kicker but he gets the ball in the air.

"You continue to work, continue to grind, wait for the opportunity, and fortunately for me, it came."

But at 28 years old and with a limited résumé, there was no guarantee it would come. 

“I never really thought about that, I’m all about positive vibes," he said at his locker after practice Wednesday. 

"I don’t want to feed myself anything negative, because what you feed your brain, what you feed your mind, that’s what it’ll feed on. So it was all about positive thoughts."

Barner spoke a lot about Sproles, who the Eagles acquired in the spring of 2014, five months before they traded a seventh-round pick to the Panthers for Barner.

Asked what he learned from Sproles, Barner replied:

"How to be a professional. How to carry myself. How to approach the game. How to approach film. How to approach meetings. That dude has taught me a lot."

It's been an eventful five years for Barner. He's been traded, released twice, placed on injured reserve, spent time on the practice squad but never really found a role.

“Everything that I’ve been told is true, just about the nature of the business," he said. "Just what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. It makes you hungry, man. Because you’re watching guys play something you want to be part of but you can’t do. It makes you push a lot harder and really grind for it."

Barner wore No. 34 in his first stint with the Eagles, but that now belongs to injured rookie Donnel Pumphrey.

So he was out at practice Sunday wearing No. 38, most recently worn by Aaron Grymes. 

“That’s terrible," Barner said with a laugh. "That number is terrible. LeGarrette told me, 'Hey, you’ve just got to make it look good.' Definitely terrible but just gotta make it work."