On the first night of football in the newly enhanced Bank of America Stadium, the battle continued for second-year running back Kenjon Barner to earn a spot on the Panthers roster.
With Jonathan Stewart inactive because of a hamstring injury and DeAngelo Williams taking a precautionary night off, Barner’s time on the field extended past the special teams duties assigned to him in 2013. He started at running back, was slated as the first-team punt returner and was on kick-return alongside Kealoha Pilares.
“I felt OK about my performance,” Barner said. “There are a few things I wish I could get back. I’ll watch the film and correct those things ... Overall I am not happy but I am not mad about tonight.”
He finished with eight yards on eight carries. He struggled to gain yards after contact – something he hopes will improve this season with his added size. The 5-foot-9 running back gained 14 pounds in the offseason, bringing him to 195 pounds.
“I felt a lot better tonight than I did last year,” he said. “I was able to take and give hits. Whereas last year, at 181 pounds, it didn’t feel good getting hit.”
Barner didn’t make an impact in the rushing game during the 2013 regular season – an ankle injury sidelined him for most of the year. In eight games, he finished with seven yards on six rushing attempts. In last year’s preseason, he had 45 yards on 16 attempts and one touchdown.
The Panthers have holes to fill on special teams after losing return specialist Ted Ginn to the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. Barner’s best chance at seeing on-field action in 2014 will be alleviating the special teams gap.
“That’s completely up to my coaches,” Barner said. “My job is to go out and put myself in a position to succeed and capitalize on that opportunity. (Special teams) is not my role to decide. Once the coaches make that decision, whoever it may be, we have to be ready.”
Barner is currently listed as the third-string running back on the depth chart – behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers drafted Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft and signed undrafted-free agent Darrin Reaves, who scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Friday’s game.
“It felt real good,” Reaves said. “After the first pop, you know it’s football. After the first pop all of the butterflies were gone.”
After losing Gaffney to a season-ending injury--and then on waivers to the New England Patriots--at the end of July, the Panthers signed former Browns running back Fozzy Whittaker. Both Whittaker and Reaves look to be in competition for Barner’s spot.
“It’s a great competition,” Barner said. “Both of those guys are very explosive guys that can make plays. It’s a competition that will be ongoing throughout training camp. We all just have to produce.”