Which Antwan Barnes will show up in 2010?

At times, linebacker shows flashes of excellence; other times, he's inconsistent

August 19, 2010|Mike Preston

The knock on Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes is that he lacks consistency. On some days, he can look like Dwight Freeney. And on other days, he is a no-show.

Which Antwan Barnes will show up for the 2010 season?

"This is my year. It's got to be," said Barnes, a Ravens fourth-round pick out of Florida International in 2007. "I've been on the sidelines for too long. It's got to be my year."

The expectations for Barnes have never been higher. We've seen flashes of excellence where he exhibits the nonstop motor and relentless desire. We've seen him blow by offensive tackles or reverse-spin on them in a split-second. Barnes will crawl on his knees if necessary for a sack.

And then poof, he'll disappear for weeks.

There are some within the organization who say Barnes is a victim of his own success, that once he plays well, he becomes arrogant and bull-headed which leads to his inconsistency. Some of that criticism might stem from Barnes' personality. He's brash, funny (loves Martin Lawrence) and talks almost as much trash on the field as teammate Terrell Suggs.

But arrogant? Barnes disagrees.

"That's total bull," Barnes said. "That's not me, and that's never been my style. I've always been the underdog growing up, so that's never been a style of mine. As an underdog, I knew I had to work to achieve, so that's bull."

Barnes hasn't disappeared yet in training camp. In fact, he has been outstanding. Against Carolina last week in the preseason opener, he was the best linebacker on the field and was relentless in applying quarterback pressure. When the Panthers couldn't block him, they held him and, in some cases, tackled him.

This is the Barnes the Ravens had hoped to see, the same one they saw at Florida International, where he had a school-record 23 career sacks.

"Antwan has got some rare athletic ability, and it's starting to show because he's playing with great confidence," said Ted Monachino, the Ravens' outside linebackers coach. "I think the kid is doing a really nice job. He has to continue to get better every day, but he's done a nice job so far."

So nice, in fact, that Barnes is taking repetitions with the first team opposite Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, whom Barnes backs up.

If Barnes continues to play well, it would be great news for the Ravens because they have stressed the pass rush since last season, when they had only 32 sacks, tied for the second-fewest in team history.

A major difference for Barnes has been the addition of Monachino, who specializes in the pass rush. He was hired by the Ravens in February.

"Hands down, out of the coaches that I've went through here, he's more detailed and he comes in with more enthusiasm," Barnes said. "He has all the things that you need to be a coach, and he looks out for his guys. He's also the first to tell when you do something right and the first to tell you when you do something wrong. That's what I love about him."

Monachino ignored all the previous things he heard about Barnes. Secondly, he wasn't going to ask Barnes to do anything that he physically couldn't do, like become a constant power rusher.

At 6-foot-1 and 251 pounds, speed and quickness were going to be Barnes' major assets.

"The first thing that we emphasize to all of them is tempo and pad level, and that goes across the board," Monachino said. "For a guy that plays at that energy level, if he can tie in some technique and continue to work on his hands, the sky is the limit."

Barnes has worked at other things, such as reading keys and becoming more aware of down and distance. He has figured out that the NFL is just as much about mental preparation as physical skills.

When he steps on the field, he is no longer learning his defense, but reacting to situations.

"The main thing I've done this year was just to know the defense and focus on my pass-rush ability because that's going to be on my shoulder this year," said Barnes, who has 37 career tackles, including five sacks.

Because he can be a pass-rushing force, Barnes has been the subject of trade rumors for the Ravens to possibly acquire a cornerback. Barnes will also be a free agent after this season.

Regardless, Barnes just wants to show everyone that he can be a good player in the NFL.

"Wherever I go, I'm going to step my game up even more," Barnes said. "I'm just playing to get on the field. That's the main thing."

Added Monachino: "I haven't had to rev up the consistency message. Antwan knows that the expectations are high at every practice and obviously they are high when the lights are on and the scoreboard is on, but he has not failed in that regard yet."


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