Healthy Barnett Back, Ready To Hit

C.J. Barnett was hitting his stride in the Miami game before suffering a major knee injury. Now back after missing all of last season, Barnett is ready to bring back the aggression to Ohio State's secondary.

Perhaps C.J. Barnett was being modest when he was asked if he recalled the bruising hit he laid on wide receiver Leonard Hankerson a year ago when Ohio State invited Miami into the Horseshoe. According to him, he doesn't remember much about the play.

"Vaguely," Barnett nonchalantly said when asked if he remembered delivering the punishing hit. "I just remember I hurt my hand on that play."

You should have seen the other guy.

While Barnett may have been slow to return to the defensive huddle after the blow, Hankerson remained curled up on the field with his helmet in the turf for a few minutes while trying to recover from the striking collision.

Fans loaded in Ohio Stadium relentlessly cheered. Barnett's reputation was instantaneously made.

"He's small," fellow defender Tyler Moeller said of Barnett's 6-0, 190-pound frame, "but he can lay a hit out there. He's a playmaker."

The hit on Hankerson was the first of many plays Barnett made against the Hurricanes, all but proving to Ohio State fans that he was the right man for the starting strong safety position.

Perhaps it was the best football he has ever played.

Moments before the end of the third quarter, Barnett was yet again seeking to make a big hit. This time, however, he got his right leg caught in a tangle that had him on the turf after the play grabbing at his knee.

Though the extent of the injury wasn't known as he was gracefully helped off the field and onto a trainer's table, former head coach Jim Tressel knew he would likely be without one of his biggest hitters for a long time.

The following day the MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament. As quickly as he was hitting his stride, Barnett's season was over.

"Stuff happens," said Barnett, knowing fully that the injury unquestionably stopped a tremendous amount of momentum. "Me not being able to play just allowed others to play, and we all can play.

"For anybody its tough not to play if you're a competitor - you always want to play," he diplomatically continued, "but my boys were out there playing good, so all you can do is be happy for them."

With the words "Silver Bullets" tattooed on his left forearm, it undoubtedly had to be difficult for the hard-hitting Barnett to sit out for the remainder of the season while watching his teammates continue to play.

The urge to hit may have resurfaced, even while he was out rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. The words tattooed on his arm imply Barnett's understanding of the importance of flying to the ball with plans on being disruptive. The point of view didn't leave him in his one-year hiatus.

"It is everything we stand for here at Ohio State," he said. "It is a brotherhood that we have. It is a nice family and this is how we play. We play recklessly and relentlessly and it is just something that is great to be a part of.

"I feel like being a part of the Silver Bullets and for all defensive guys, we just want to get to the ball with bad intentions. We all want to make them feel it."

Ironically enough, Barnett wasn't supposed to be the starting safety in 2010. A minor injury to Orhian Johnson in fall camp opened up the spot for Barnett to get on the field before unexpectedly earning the starting spot he wouldn't relinquish until his knee injury against the Hurricanes.

When Barnett suffered his season-ending injury, it was Johnson who came back onto the field in the starting role. Johnson was Ohio State's only returning starter to the secondary this season and has no developed as one of the leaders of Ohio State's youthful defense.

Barnett, however, insists he continued to grow while sidelined.

"I got better with knowing the whole defense and how schemes work and the concepts of the defense because I was able to study more," Barnett said. "Being back out here makes you appreciate it.

"Anything can happen and you can be done really quick. I know going through camp last year and other years we all dread it, but after going through an injury you appreciate being out here every day."

Just over an hour into Ohio State's first practice of fall camp Barnett jumped a Taylor Graham pass, picked it off, and ran it all the way back for a touchdown.

A few plays later tight end Jake Stoneburner caught a pass over the middle before receiving a slight pop from Barnett. Both players weren't wearing pads, but Barnett looked to be bracing himself for a Hankerson-like impact.

Fall camp wasn't even hours into session and Barnett was already back.

"Having a guy back there ball hunting, head hunting kind of scares the offense a little bit," said Stoneburner, who has had his fair share of encounters with the powerful Barnett. "If we have a safety that wants to hit people the way C.J. does, I think that adds a little fear for people going against our defense."

Luckily for Stoneburner, coaches frown on inter-squad contact that goes beyond the protocol of just tackling, thus allowing the tight end and the inexperienced wide receivers to avoid harsh contact with Barnett.

But there's no question Barnett's big-hitting ability can have a lasting effect on the opposition. Last year's hit on Hankerson seemed to have him thinking twice after recovering from the hit, as multiple Buckeye defenders commented on the change in the receiver's aggressiveness for the remainder of the game.

"Coaches don't want people laying each other out in practice," Stoneburner said, "but there are plenty of opportunities in practice where guys were going up to catch passes and C.J. is right there ready to knock their heads off."

Perhaps after missing nearly a year with an injury one could expect Barnett to sport apprehension in his return to the field. Barnett, however, hasn't even thought twice about his knee.

Actively flying around practice and drawing contact, Barnett has been able to put the injury behind him and fully focus on preparing as one of the team's starting defensive backs.

"When he went down last year it hurt me because I knew what type of player he was," starting cornerback Travis Howard said. "To having him back this year healthy and strong, it is only a big positive for our defense."

Follow Me on Twitter and find us on Facebook.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories