They were both stars once, running backs who found themselves on college football’s biggest stages. Kenjon Barner, the All-American who scored five times in a game, and Andre Williams, the Heisman finalist who still owns one of the most productive rushing seasons in NCAA history.
Now, they sit across the same corner of the Chargers’ locker room — lockers they hope to keep after 1 p.m. on Saturday, the deadline for teams to trim their rosters from 90 to 53.
Both have been through this before.
Three years ago, Barner was sweating out the final week. The Panthers had traded him to Philadelphia, shipping away the former sixth-round pick 11 days before the cut deadline. The move reunited him with Chip Kelly, his college coach at Oregon, but also forced him to adjust to a new team on short notice.
“‘It’s cuts, it’s time for cuts, it’s time for cuts,’” he recalled. “You think about it, and it consumes you.”
The Eagles waived him, but re-signed him to the practice squad two months later.
For Williams, the experience was more of a shock. Yes, he was coming off a disappointing 2015 season in which he totalled just 257 yards on the ground. But he had also overhauled his offseason workout regimen, dropping 12 pounds and trimming six inches from his waist. Combine that transformation with what he did as a rookie — 721 yards and seven touchdowns in seven starts — and he figured he was safe.
No matter. General Manager Jerry Reese called him into the office late last summer, and that was that. Looking back, Williams said he still isn’t sure why the Giants decided to let him go.
“I was the healthiest, hardest-working back in that room,” he said.
For Barner and Williams, Thursday’s preseason finale against the 49ers could represent their last chance to make a strong impression on the Chargers’ brass. Both are fighting for spots in an unsettled backfield, one that looks completely open after Melvin Gordon and Branden Oliver. Tailbacks could run four deep on the regular-season depth chart — but factor in undrafted rookie Austin Ekeler, and someone’s bound to be left out.
Earlier this week, Coach Anthony Lynn listed his criteria for evaluating players before final cuts: Does he know what he’s doing? Is he consistent and dependable? Is he in shape to finish a ball game? Does he have talent?
“I kind of like it in that order,” Lynn said. “Because I’ve been around the league long enough to know that it takes more than talent…