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Why Kenjon Barner Stopped Returning Kicks

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Don't count on Barner to take over KR duties for the injured Josh Huff. That part of his game essentially ended with a brutal injury in 2010.

Everyone is speculating about Chip Kelly's plan for his newly acquired college star, Kenjon Barner, and kick returning is frequently mentioned.

Don't count on it.

These statistics (from the Oregon Ducks official website) show that Barner's return output took a steep dive in 2010.

PUNT RETURNS g no. yards td long avg/r avg/g
2009 13 13 137 0 31 10.5 10.5
2010 11 10 132 1 80 13.2 12.0
2011 12 3 -6 0 8 -2.0 -0.5
2012 13 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0
TOTAL 49 26 263 1 80 10.1 5.4

KICK RETURNS g no. yards td long avg/r avg/g
2009 13 41 1020 1 100 24.9 78.5
2010 11 13 236 0 39 18.2 21.5
2011 12 7 115 0 26 16.4 9.6
2012 13 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0
TOTAL 49 61 1371 1 100 22.5 28.0

The video above explains why. Barner was absolutely murderlegged by a helmet to helmet, full speed tackle while running back a kickoff against Washington State in 2010. He left the field in an ambulance. I remember watching it at the time, it was horrifying.  People were consoling his teammates.

The hit was famously brutal at the time. Here's another view; you'll notice that the video's name is simply "The Kenjon Barner Hit."


Barner is a tough player, and he returned to ably replace LaMichael James as Kelly's primary running back. He has run a few kicks back since then, but has never been the return threat he was in his first year and a half. And if he hesitates a bit before hitting those holes hard, well I can't really blame him.

The same skills that made him a great returner, though, serve him well in Chip Kelly's offenses. It isn't a bunch of 6-7 yard gains that builds the Eagles' running success; it's the 20-60 yard bursts through the second and third level, built on the downfield blocking of the mobile front line and (hopefully) the wide receivers. One you get past the front line, the skills are very similar to kick returning.

And my guess is that, with Chris Polk's hamstring injury lingering and Shady complaining of mild turf toe, Chip remembered Barner's toughness in coming back from his big hit, and thought he might be worth a try in Philadelphia, too.