Kenny Gainwell

Gainwell embracing what might be best battle in training camp

Eagles running back Kenny Gainwell is ready for a big competition in training camp this summer

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Competition is nothing new to Eagles running back Kenny Gainwell.

In fact, he enjoys it.

“When I was at Memphis, we had Tony Pollard there,” Gainwell said on Tuesday. “That was like a competition role I had to face then. I’ve been in this position before and it’s nothing. Just having D’Andre (Swift) here at the same time, it’s going to help make me better and make him better at the same time.”

During the 2022 season, the Eagles were pretty upfront about the running back situation. Miles Sanders was their guy and the rest of the backs all rotated behind him. Last year, Sanders accounted for over 67% of touches for Eagles backs.

But now Sanders is a Carolina Panther and the Eagles have brought in two new backs — Rashaad Penny as a free agent and Swift through a trade — to bolster the running back room, joining Gainwell and Boston Scott.

So what will the rotation look like in 2023?

That’s not really clear just yet. Both Penny and Swift have had better production in the NFL in other cities but Gainwell and Scott have done some really nice things in Philly.

Gainwell, 24, was seemingly in line to be the Eagles’ RB1 after Sanders left in free agency but then the Birds brought in a couple of veterans. Still, Gainwell is expecting a big role in Year 3 of his career. And he’s excited to carve out that role in training camp.

“I’m expecting a very high role,” Gainwell said. “I’m just going to continue to improve my game, stay on top of everything that I have done. But I’m expecting a high role this year.”

In his second NFL season, Gainwell had 53 carries for 240 yards and 4 touchdowns as well as 23 catches for 169 yards in the regular season. But in the playoffs, Playoff Kenny was born. In three games in the postseason, Gainwell had 236 scrimmage yards in three games.

After averaging 24 scrimmage yards per game in the regular season, that average ballooned to 78.7 in the playoffs. There’s a thought that Gainwell might be able to carry over some of that momentum into the 2023 season. He hopes so too.

What was the key to Gainwell’s postseason success?

“I felt like Coach Nick (Sirianni) trusted me,” Gainwell said. “He gave me an opportunity to go out and I took very advantage of that opportunity.”

In recent seasons, the Eagles haven’t thrown a ton of passes to their running backs but that could perhaps change in 2023. Swift has caught 156 passes in his NFL career, which ranks fifth in the NFL during that span. Gainwell hasn’t been as productive but he has caught 56 passes in two years and has that skill in his tool belt. It’s part of the reason why he was the Eagles’ 2-minute running back last season.

The Eagles used a fifth-round pick on Gainwell, taking him at 150 overall out of Memphis back in 2021. The cousin of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has become a solid rotational player with the Eagles but he wants more.

And it’s worth pointing out that Gainwell is the only running back out of the four who is under contract beyond the 2023 season.

No one really knows how snaps and touches will be divvied up this season. But it’ll be something worth monitoring all summer in training camp. It might be the best battle in camp.

“What I like a lot about the guys in the room is that, that doesn’t really matter to us,” Scott said. “It doesn’t matter what they say our role is or this or that. What we’re focused on is being the best running back that we can be, doing as much as we can. We’re learning new things. Just trying to stay consistent with our fundamentals. We’re just trying to be the best players we can be and then as we go through training camp, whatever it may be, the cards will fall where they will.”

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