June 10, 2023
Going into March, back at the NFL Combine, the Eagles' running back room was looking extremely thin.
It was becoming increasingly clear that Miles Sanders was on his way out and Boston Scott was without a contract, leaving Kenny Gainwell and Trey Sermon as the only two backs on the depth chart.
Obviously, things weren't going to stay that way, but that was enough to pose the question to GM Howie Roseman of whether it was time for Gainwell to step into a lead role.
"Yeah, Kenny's an impressive young player," Roseman said at the time. "When you watch him and you watch his skillset, he's got a really good vision, he's got the ability to get small and get skinny, he can catch the ball, he can protect. He's a good player."
And one who had a clear opportunity to reach for greater.
It's June now, the Eagles have wrapped up organized team activities, and obviously, things around their running back room didn't stay that way.
They signed power back Rashaad Penny at the start of free agency in March, Scott re-upped too, then they swung a trade with Detroit for the versatile St. Joe's Prep product D'Andre Swift at the draft in April.
The backfield went from weak to – on paper at least – loaded in an instant. But with that much projected depth, did that suddenly mean slimmer chances for Gainwell to take on more?
Not in the slightest if you ask him.
"I'm expecting a very high role," the 24-year old said earlier this week. "I'm just going to continue to improve my game and build on top of everything I've done.
"Nothing different. Just go off of everything. Be stronger, be faster, be more smart of a player, help our team get back to the goal we got to last year."
A fifth-round pick out of Memphis in the 2021 draft, Gainwell started carving out a role as a back who could excel both on the ground and in the passing game. His 2022 numbers, however, saw a decline compared to his rookie season and his usage within the offensive gameplan didn't seem as prominent.
But then the playoffs happened.
He torched an upstart but overmatched Giants team for 112 yards in the divisional round and then helped chip away at a gassed 49ers squad with 48 more to clinch the NFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl.
Head coach Nick Sirianni trusted him and offered up opportunity in those spots, he said, and he seized the moment.
"Playoff Gainwell" was born, and now he's working to ensure that it was no flash in the pan.
"You start something good and you want to keep that up," Gainwell said. "You want to make this community, you want to make this organization happy. Just having that role, just having that little boost of energy from the fans, it can be good. I'm embracing it."
He's embracing the competition too.
When the Eagles regroup for training camp later this summer, Gainwell, Scott, Swift, Penny, and Sermon will all be after offensive snaps.
And since Swift plays so similarly as a dynamic back who can punish defenses on the ground and through the air, he'll likely be Gainwell's most direct competition.
"Man, we're deep there," Sirianni said of his running back group. "As a coach, it's just a really good problem. We're really deep at that spot. It'll be great battles to see who makes this football team. They're all gonna be able to contribute in some sort of way."
How Gainwell finds his, and how impactful it could be going forward, will be one of the more interesting storylines to keep an eye on once the Eagles report back for camp.
He isn't necessarily worried about it himself though. Competition is healthy and he's been in this situation before. At Memphis, Gainwell battled back and forth with current Cowboys back Tony Pollard for playing time, and both clearly walked away better players because of it.
He's expecting the same between him and Swift.
"Just having D'Andre here at the same time, it's gonna help make me better and make him better," Gainwell said.
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