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Carolina Panthers backup Kenjon Barner bulks up

Kenjon Barner was famous for a sixth-round pick. He came to Carolina from Oregon, where as a senior he rushed for 1,767 yards and scored 23 touchdowns.

As a Panther rookie last season Barner ran six times for 7 yards and caught two passes for seven. His longest reception was 5 yards, his longest run 2.

And you forgot about him, didn’t you?

What’s the difference between Barner the rookie and Barner the second-year player?

“His hair,” linebacker Luke Kuechly says as he walks past.

There are two differences, and hair is not one of them.

The first is weight. Barner, 5-foot-9, played at 181 pounds last season. Running backs who weigh 181 pounds tend to be temporary. Philadelphia’s Darren Sproles is 5-6 and weighs 190.

Last October the Panthers played Tampa Bay and Barner got his first NFL carry. He avoided 6-1, 233-pound linebacker Lavonte David and took on 6-2, 213-pound safety Mark Barron.

“Barron met me in the hole,” says Barner. “And I thought, ‘Oh, I need to gain some weight.’ ”

After the season Barner worked out in Los Angeles with his longtime trainer, Travelle Gaines. Barner would eat, lift, eat, run, eat, do yoga, eat and engage in strength training. Then he’d eat. Barner’s metabolism is almost as quick as he is so he struggles to grow.

What did you eat?

“If you put it in front of me I ate it,” he says.

Barner added 14 pounds. He weighs 195. This is where your girth went, Jordan Gross.

In the NFL Combine, Barner ran a 4.39 40-yard dash. Does the new weight slow you down?

“If anything, it makes me a lot more explosive which, in turn, gives me a little more speed,” he says.

Have you exploded on any Panthers defenders?

“I tried Luke (Kuechly) in practice,” says Barner. “I met him in the hole and I was kind of happy with the outcome. I didn’t obviously run him over or anything, but I was OK with it.”

Barner talks quietly as he describes the collision. Kuechly is at the next table.

Barner did not practice Friday. He’s worked overtime with Jonathan Stewart injured and, his body tight and sore, coach Ron Rivera gave him the day off.

Rivera says Barner has played well, especially in protection.

If a Panthers running back fails to understand or execute blocking concepts, he doesn’t play. Most were new to Barner. If you’re running for 1,767 yards as a senior you don’t have time to block.

One night last season, Barner was with Stewart in a South End lounge called the Stache House.

“People don’t believe me when I say Jonathan taught me part of our key protection in a night club,” says Barner.

Stewart and Barner did not go to the lounge to talk about how best to thwart a blitzing safety.

But starter DeAngelo Williams was injured, which meant Barner could play. Stewart asked Barner if he was ready. Barner said he didn’t know key protection.

“So Jonathan started taking glasses and putting them on the table in a defensive formation, a 3-4 or a 4-down front,” says Barner. “He was grabbing empty glasses. Here’s the offensive line, the tailback, the quarterback.”

While the rest of the patrons undoubtedly drank from paper cups, Stewart taught Barner protection concepts.

Barner says his goals this season are to contribute on special teams and offense.

But wouldn’t you love to be the famous back from Oregon once more running free?

“Oh, man,” says Barner, the words coming in a rush. “There’s no way to describe how bad I want to do those things because it’s in you and it’s something you’ve done and it’s something you expect to do and you know how to do and you just have to take advantage of the opportunities when they’re given to you.”

I wouldn’t forget about him.