The former Oregon standout has been recovering from a foot sprain he suffered against the Ravens in the third preseason game, but told reporters he's on track to return to action Week 5 against the Cardinals.
“Yeah absolutely,” Barner told the Charlotte Observer about returning after the Week 4 bye. “Just got to keep working, stay in the treatment room even when I feel like I don’t need it and just keep that up and continue to work to get back in shape.”
Barner, Carolina's sixth-round pick in April's draft, brings youth and explosiveness to a veteran backfield. With fellow Oregon alum Jonathan Stewart on the PUP list, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Lynwood, California, native could see an expanded role in the Panthers offense.
DeAngelo Williams, who turned 30 during the offseason, has already exceeded the remarkably short shelf life of most NFL running backs. Although still a capable starter, the longtime Panther has lost a considerable amount of speed and elusiveness over his eight-year NFL career.
Mike Tolbert – the other cog in the Panthers backfield – is primarily used as a blocking fullback and short-yardage specialist.
While Williams is likely to remain the lead runner, Barner figures to get in the mix as a change-of-pace back. An ex-track star with 4.4 speed, the cagey 24-year-old is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
While Barner's big-play ability certainly adds another dimension to the Carolina backfield, there are significant concerns with the former All-American.
His lack of size/durability and reliance on cut-blocking earned him a reputation as a shoddy pass protector. Barner, who coughed up two fumbles in three preseason appearances, has also struggled with ball security throughout his career.
Ron Rivera and the coaching staff will have to address these issues before Barner can be relied on as a major part of the offense.
In spite of these shortcomings, he has tremendous upside as a Darren Sproles-type playmaker in the Carolina offense. Panthers fans should be excited for Kenjon Barner's upcoming regular-season debut.
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