Eagles training camp 2022: The one area Kenny Gainwell has improved the most

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The one area Gainwell has improved the most originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

You hear a lot about the 1-on-1 linemen drills at Eagles training camp, and it’s always a lot of fun to watch those big dudes clash full-speed, head-to-head.

But those aren’t the only 1-on-1 drills at camp that are engaging to watch. On Tuesday, linebackers coach Nick Rallis and running backs coach Jemal Singleton put their guys through 1-on-1 blitz-pickup drills, and one of the stars of the show was Kenny Gainwell.

The 23-year-old second-year pro stands only 5-foot-9, but he is a solid 200 pounds and, at least judging by his reps at this practice, he’s come a long way when it comes to blitz pickup.

Not that he was terrible at it last year. He wouldn’t have gotten 298 offensive snaps as a rookie fifth-round pick if he was. But he looked way more powerful and stout blocking linebackers on Tuesday than he did a year ago.

“Man, I’ve come a long way,” Gainwell said after practice. “Coming from Memphis, where it was just zone pickups and things like that where we didn’t have to have a whole lot of man protection up front of the line, and knowing protections, I’ve come a long way from that.

“Just working with coach Singleton each every day and learning my points, knowing everything I had to do to take it to the next level to pick up those blocks.”

Boston Scott is also very good at blitz pickup. Miles Sanders has gotten better at it. Jason Huntley is still a work in progress.

“Practice makes perfect,” Gainwell said. “Handle it on the practice field and take it over to the game field.”

Gainwell had a promising 2021 season, becoming only the sixth rookie in Eagles history with 250 yards both rushing and receiving.

He also became only the sixth rookie running back league-wide since 1990 with seven offensive touchdowns on 101 or fewer touches.

But he knows that none of that means anything if he’s not picking up blitzes and protecting the quarterback.

“It’s very important,” he said. “You’ve got to know your protections. If you can’t block, you won’t set foot on that field at all. You give up a blitz, give up a sack on the quarterback, that’s an L. That’s an L for the team.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Eagles use Gainwell, who is probably the most complete back on the team when it comes to running, receiving and blocking.

Nick Sirianni has made it clear that Sanders will be the bell-cow runner, but when you have a talent like Gainwell, you find ways to use him.

Gainwell is the best receiving back on the team. His 33 catches last year are fifth-most ever by an Eagles rookie running back. But he also averaged 4.3 yards per carry, ninth-highest in Eagles history by a rookie running back and fifth-highest among all NFL rookies last year.

You heard about Miles Sanders running with the second team? That’s because all the backs need to get reps with the first group. All three are going to play, so they need to get used to practicing with the first unit.

“Feel great going into Year 2,” Gainwell said. “I feel comfortable with each and every spot on the field, so I’m taking advantage of my opportunities and whatever comes to me, I’m going to take advantage of it and go.

“Be myself, continue to work hard and everything else is just going to fall in line.”