Eagles Notes: Barner joins a crowded Eagles backfield

Kenjon Barner, eluding a Steelers defender, hopes to lock up a roster spot. But the former Oregon star, who last played with the Panthers, faces stiff competition.
Kenjon Barner, eluding a Steelers defender, hopes to lock up a roster spot. But the former Oregon star, who last played with the Panthers, faces stiff competition. (Getty)
Posted: August 24, 2014

The addition of Kenjon Barner only complicates the Eagles' running back situation, which will require difficult choices when the roster is cut to 53 on Aug. 30. Barner, a former Oregon standout acquired from the Panthers on Wednesday, is one of six running backs on the roster.

LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are the only locks. Chris Polk was well positioned at the start of camp, but a torn hamstring has kept him out of the preseason and most of camp. Polk expects to return to practice this weekend, and he'll find a crowded backfield. Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey are in contention, along with Barner.

"We don't know who our third running back is," coach Chip Kelly said, "so we're going to have to try to find out."

This was a curious comment, because Polk was the unquestioned No. 3 running back at the beginning of camp. Kelly even said then that Tucker had a strong grip on the No. 4 spot. Tucker has four touchdowns during the preseason, and Josey has averaged 8.7 yards per carry. Polk is more experienced and has proven to be an intriguing talent, but the Eagles need him on the field for a better evaluation.

The Eagles kept four running backs for much of last season, and they could be creative with the roster to go heavier at the position. Barner's addition makes the next week especially interesting; he rushed seven times for 32 yards Thursday in his Eagles debut.

"The fact that he's a special-teams player, kick returner, he's been a personal protector for Carolina, and he also runs down and covers kickoffs," Kelly said. "That's another guy that's got some versatility. When you look at the bottom of the roster, versatility will be key for us."

Bair impresses

With each game, it looks more likely like 29-year-old defensive lineman Brandon Bair could make the roster. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Oregon product spent last season on the practice squad. He has not played in an NFL, although he has mixed in with the first-team defense this summer. Kelly said Bair's age will not be held against him when the team trims the roster.

"My concern is the season," Kelly said. "So, I think if he continues to put himself in positions to play, then our focus with those guys is what's going to help us immediately. We're not building for the future. Our future is right now."

Allen shines at safety

Nate Allen started all three preseason games, and it appears he has sealed the starting safety spot next to Malcolm Jenkins. Kelly would not commit to that because there is still two weeks before the regular-season opener, but he said Allen has had an "outstanding camp."

"I know nothing's ever set in stone," Allen said. "That's how I approach everything. There's always competition. It's made the secondary better."

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