When the Carolina Panthers drafted RB Kenjon Barner in the 2013 NFL draft, there was a collective groan across the internet from Panthers fans. Another running back? What about our offensive line? The fans were upset, and some would say rightfully so.
However, it appears that this draft day gamble is paying off. Kenjon Barner is quickly rising in the ranks of the Panthers crowded offensive backfield. A crowded backfield is nothing new to him...
At college, I had LaGarrett Blount, LeMichael James, Andre Crenshaw, a lot of guys when I first moved to that position. Everyone has been asking how I feel about the crowded backfield. I don’t feel any way about it. I’m just going to continue to work hard and continue to show these coaches I can play and that I deserve to be here. At the end of the day, I’ll look up and see where I’m at. As far as the backfield being crowded, it doesn’t mean anything to me. You can’t worry about it.
On the first day of training camp, Barner saw time mainly with the 3rd and 4th string units. More recently he has been running with the second string unit led by Derrick Anderson. It appears Barner's stock is rising.
The transition from college to pros may not be as difficult for Barner than players from other systems. Having played under Chip Kelly in Oregon, Barner is accustomed to a higher paced pro style offense.
Barner has also shown to be a highly coachable player.
Kenjon's biggest concern coming out of college was his propensity to run upright, not staying low to the ground. Unlike Eric Shelton (who never corrected this problem), Barner has changed and now runs as low as any player on the roster. Running low gives defensive players less to wrap up and keeps the runner's center of gravity low, allowing for better balance.
The next concern about Barner was his pass protection ability. Again, Kenjon has shown great improvement in less than a week of camp. While pass protection is not his strength, he has shown the ability to at least hold off a defender should Cam Newton audible to a passing play from a run formation.
So what does all of this mean?
First, it means if Kenjon can continue to improve and prove himself throughout training camp and preseason, he may see real time this year. If that happens, the heavy financial load of a Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart backfield becomes a tempting target for GM David Gettleman. If Barner does have a solid year on a sixth round rookie salary, this will be the last year for either Williams or Stewart as a Panther.
Secondly, it could be the spark the Panthers running game has been missing. Barner has a quicker first step than any back on the roster. Behind an average offensive line, he may have more ability to hit a quickly closing hole where the other backs do not.
I have not been this excited about a rookie running back since the drafting of Jonathan Stewart. Is Barner a definite contributor? Not yet, but if he keeps rising he soon will be.
Really good practice today at Wofford. The weather wasn't to hot, and the mosquitoes were manageable.
When I arrived Star Lotulelei was getting some one on one mentoring from a defensive coach. He was fine tuning his hand placement and shedding blocks. Star appears to be self motivated and a student of the game. These two things are as important as his physical traits, if not more so.
Luke Kuechly stopped on the way in to sign a few autographs. The fans love this guy. Luke appears to go to the kids first for autographs, as he should.
Rivera lit a fire under the team today. He apparently wanted a more uptempo practice. Very little time was taken between snaps, sometimes not even allowing players to leave the field after their rotation.
The offensive line remains my biggest concern. I have to think Gettleman is on the phone and the wire daily.
Cam continues to have his best camp yet. He is clowning around less, and showing more leadership. I think he may be maturing a bit.
Barner is a shifty guy. He is 5'9 which isn't very short, but he runs much lower than that. He disappears easily behind the offensive line and gives the defensive players only shoulder pads and legs to grab on to. Good stuff.
Greg Olsen is far and away our best Tight End. I am struggling to find something about the other guys worth mentioning.
Gettis had an up and down day. While he did ok in individual drills, he had some drops when being defended. He is also very slow to get up after hitting the ground. I just don't know if this guy has the grit needed for the NFL.
The good news is Brandon Lafell is having his best camp so far. He is catching everything near him and following it through with YACs.
You just can't help but pull for Pilares. That guy gives it everything he has on every play. He just needs to improve his consistency with positive results.
For some reason Armond Smith did a TD "point to the sky" move during a typical routine drill. Made me laugh, don't know why.
There is some good news regarding the offensive line. They were able to open up some pretty big holes today for the running backs.
The offensive line a few times had a hard time containing Star. Jeff Byers here isn't showing effective technique I don't think.
I like Lafell's LSU shoes and gloves. I don't like our secondary being abused by them.
Jerry RIchardson and Jerry West. I am pretty pumped up that I got to meet West. My dad, who is from WV, will be more pumped up.
Blackburn saw time today with the starting LB's. He is listed at 6'3 but seems much taller than that. He also has a great motor and is vocal on the field.
Ginn and HIxon's stock was on the rise today. Both made some really nice grabs under tight coverage. They may be pulling away from the pack. Armanti had a nice touchdown catch, but I notified him that he only had one foot in bounds. He laughed a bit.
I've really slacked off the past 2 months with my wife being pregnant and now a newborn in the house. I am doing the 1200 calorie a day thing to drop the extra lbs I picked up then hitting the gym again. Will take two months to get back to wear I was. Getting off your routine sucks.
8. Kenjon Barner - Mixed reviews on him today. I could really tell he was trying to run low, sometimes even exaggerated it a bit. Which is good. But he did drop a few balls out of the backfield that hit him dead in both hands. Yes, its rookie camp, I am sure he will settle down.
9. Edmund Kugbila - Fairly impressive physical specimen. Wide bodied like a guard, thats for sure.
Rookie camp is basically an introduction for the rookies and undrafted free agents of note and a chance for scores of other players to try to get an invite to the regular camp.
In all honesty there is not much going on except the extreme fundamentals of the game. They break down the rookies with the basics and keep an eye out for others that show them something.
There is no real contact allowed, so we can only watch and notice the footwork and strength of the lineman in dummy drills and such.
So anyways on with some pics and general observations....
1- Gettleman is awesome. He has a much different personality than Hurney. Very outgoing. Just seems like a great guy. He reminds me of a highschool football coach from his demeanor to how he wears his shorts. He also chews tobacco, not redman, its out of a tin. A Copenhagen man.
Here David Gettleman takes time to sign an autograph.
2. A couple guys you may not have heard on but possibly keep an eye on....
Tori Mobley - Guard from Jacksonville State - 6'3 290. Undrafted Free Agent
Casey Walker - Defensive Tackle from Oklahoma. 6-1 335. This guy is HUGE.
3. Star Lotulelei is as advertised. He instantly makes you aware of what has been missing. He just has a presence about him. I was watching him in drills. Nimble feet, tons of power, and it all just seems to come to him naturally and effortlessly.
4. Kawaan Short - Looked fine in drills. The biggest thing was he was not corrected on anything. This was a day you really did not want your name called.
5. Matt McGloin our new QB prospect. He actually looked pretty sharp. The receivers were extremely sub par, but he seemed to hit most of them in stride. Not a big guy and doesn't seem to have a huge arm, but is very fluid. Maybe our own Andy Dalton (ginger reference). Gettleman was keeping a close eye on him (pictured below)
6. Ron Rivera seemed to be in really good spirits. If he is a man with his job on the line you couldn't tell by looking at him.
7. AJ Klein - Good guy. Took the time to sign autographs on the way in. Again, didn't hear his name all day which was a good thing. Bigger than I thought he would be (twss).