FOXBORO, Mass. — The three carries Kenjon Barner received Sunday night in the New England Patriots’ 43-40 win might not have been much more than a blip on the radar for most fans, but they meant a lot to the veteran running back.
Barner picked up 16 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry in Sunday night’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots went on to score a touchdown on that drive. Those yards were meaningful. And on those three carries, Barner broke two tackles, more than Sony Michel managed on 24 attempts or James White made on 11 touches.
“They told me they were going to give me an opportunity,” Barner said. “They gave me an opportunity, and my job was to capitalize on whatever that opportunity was going to be, whether it was one play, two plays, whatever it was. My job was to go out there and show them that they might have seen it on film, but they haven’t seen it in person. You can see something on film, but once you get in here and haven’t seen it for yourself, you have to develop that trust. You have to see, ‘OK, this guy can do this, this guy can do that.’ And that’s what it’s about.
“It’s just about building trust, showing them what I can do, how I can do it and allowing them to put it in their minds the best way to put me in a position to be successful and go out there and capitalize on it.”
Barner, an Oregon product who has spent time with the Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, is on his third stint with the Patriots this season. He signed Sept. 11, was released Sept. 19, re-signed Sept. 26, released again Oct. 4 and re-signed Oct. 8.
“I’m still learning on the fly, but I’m a hell of a lot more comfortable than the first week I was here,” Barner said. “Just being familiar, becoming more familiar with the system where things are making more sense to me, things are starting to resemble each other to where I can kind of group things together, like, ‘OK, on this I have this. On this, I have that.’ Rather than those first two weeks where it’s kind of like, ‘I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.’
“So, just trying to find that comfort zone, but I’ve had a lot of help, whether it’s Danny (Etling), whether it’s Pat (Chung), Sony (Michel), James (White), different guys, Tom (Brady). Tom talking to me in practice, in games, making sure, ‘You good? You OK? You need anything?’ When you have guys like that who are willing to give up themselves and give up their time, it makes it a lot easier.”
Barner’s biggest issue initially was nailing down the Patriots’ complex passing game with terminology the 5-foot-9, 195-pound back was unfamiliar with.
“It’s a lot, but once you become familiar with it, you can start grouping things together,” Barner said. “You start picking up on words that tell you what to do, whereas when I first got here, I’m like, ‘I’m just trying to remember everything’ without having any keys or anything like that. Definitely the pass game, but that’s become a lot easier, becoming more comfortable with that and every week, every day I get more comfortable, getting more comfortable. When you have people who are willing to help and willing to give up themselves, it makes it a lot easier.”
Barner currently is the Patriots’ No. 3 running back behind James White and Sony Michel. He’s one injury away from having a major role in the Patriots’ offense, which shows a certain level of trust from New England’s coaches. He showed he could be effective in a small-sample size Sunday.
“Just the fact that they’re giving me an opportunity,” Barner said. “And I won’t say give. You’re going to earn everything here. That’s something I can appreciate and respect about being here. Nothing is given, but everything is earned. So, for them to allow me to earn the opportunities, whether it’s through practice, whatever it may be, and then them, in essence, taking a chance and putting me out there because they haven’t seen me do it a lot, putting me out there, can’t help but love that.”