Arizona State safety Josh Barrett won his team's Most Valuable Defensive Player award and finished his requirements for his bachelor's degree during his junior year. Starting every game at strong safety, he led the Sun Devils with 82 tackles and three interceptions that year, showing the range and speed that had the attention of NFL scouts.
But when he returned for his senior year, fate was less than kind as he battled injuries that kept him from getting into the groove that had made him so successful and impressive. When he was able to take the field, he still made a difference, especially on special teams — a skill area that NFL teams covet when it comes to rookies.
The 6-foot-2, 223-pound safety made just 38 tackles and one interception on defense during his senior year, but he sent NFL talent evaluators back to their respective film rooms following the NFL Combine where he performed well in his position drills and posted the top 40-time out of all safeties by running a 4.35-second dash. His footwork and fluid hip movement had observers buzzing.
Barrett told Scout.com that he talked with the Jets, Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Texans, Raiders, Broncos, Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Vikings, Falcons, Panthers, 49ers and Seahawks at the Combine. And on Friday, he'll be in Cleveland for a visit with the Browns.
Barrett recently reflected on his college career and his Combine experience with me during this exclusive Scout.com interview.
Ed Thompson: I want to talk about your incredible performance at the Combine, but let's take a quick look back at your college career. Your junior year you had your biggest year, but then in your senior year you had a little drop off. I'm sure the fans are wondering what happened between the two years, so fill them in on what happened.
Josh Barrett wraps up Arizona receiver Syndric Steptoe in 2006.
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Josh Barrett: Coming into my senior year I had a great camp leading into the season. I was out through spring with a pectoral injury that I did while I was bench-pressing right around this time last year. I aggravated that again in camp and went into the season kind of banged up. I was still playing and had my focus on the team, with my goal on us winning games — that's something as a senior leader and a senior captain that I felt was big. The first two games I struggled, I think I had about one tackle, a few passes broken up, but nothing huge and nothing where I was expecting to be. The coaches challenged me and they said they were going to give another guy an opportunity to make some plays and that's what happened. But I didn't let that get me down. I stayed humble, I stayed hungry, and I was still out there making plays to help my team win. Eventually, after the fourth game, I earned my starting role back and really started peaking. I was playing well, I was confident, and then coming into the second to last game of the season we had USC, which was on Thanksgiving. In the first quarter of that game I had an MCL injury while coming in to try and assist on a tackle. It was unfortunate that I had to sit out that game and the following two games, so I really missed three games due to what they call a two-plus MCL strain. A three is a complete tear and a two-plus is a partial tear. Really, missing games and not being healthy was the biggest impact on my senior year. I didn't let it get me down and it was a character building year for me. I learned a lot more about what kind of person I am and what kind of player I am. I resolved all of the issues that were going on, and I felt that I was still able to contribute greatly to our team's success.
Thompson: Absolutely. I've got to tell you that I really admire the fact that there you were in your junior year, voted Defensive MVP and then early in the season of your senior year when the coaches pulled you from the starting lineup like that for a couple of games, it would have been very easy for a guy to just get frustrated, hang it up, and say the heck with it. But it sounds like you really handled it well.
Barrett: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Thompson: Is there any memory better than your fourth-quarter interception in the end zone against UCLA in November to help clinch that victory your senior year?
Barrett: Absolutely not. That was huge. That was a tremendous game. UCLA was playing with their backs against the ropes offensively. I think they were down to their fourth-string quarterback who converted from wide receiver to start for them that game. It was interesting because we had no way of scouting him and we really went into the game thinking he would be a really athletic guy, so we were ready for anything. He was really athletic and did a really good job of getting his team in there in position to make plays. Coming down to that fourth quarter it was a big game for me personally, because I felt like I probably had the biggest impact on special teams I've ever had. I forced a fumble and a punt and got the ball back to our offense, so that was huge. Coming down in that fourth quarter drive they had some momentum, and I actually had a pass go off my fingertips about two plays prior in a different series. So I was beating myself up about that and the guys on the team were telling me to forget about it and that I'd get another chance. Sure enough, in that fourth quarter he threw to the end zone and I got in front of that close to the pylon. And, oh man, it was a big play.
Thompson: As you were battling through your injuries, running back Ryan Torain, another player I've had an opportunity to talk with, was also battling a huge injury himself. Did you guys commiserate at all and try to help keep each other up?
Barrett: Yeah, we did. And that's what teammates are for. Ryan was in a situation where no matter how much rehab he would have done, surgery was imminent for him in his position. So I was there for Ryan just trying to build him up and make sure he had the big picture in mind, and he definitely did. When things were kind of rough for me, there were a lot of questions he was asking me because we got to know each other a lot more this year than we had in the past. And he said, "Hey listen, keep the right attitude, keep the team first, and keep working hard." And everything worked out.
Thompson: In 2005, you won the special teams' Iron Man award. Talk about your work on special teams and what you do out there to be so successful.
Barrett: It's a part of the game that if you give a big effort you get big results, and it's something that I take a lot of pride in. That's something that Coach Osborne — one of the first coaches I met at ASU — preached to me. You may not be a starter on defense, you may not get the amount of reps that you think you deserve, but the way you can impact the game is on special teams. So I always believed that defense and special teams equally have a role in the outcome of the game. I really kept that sort of mentality with me my whole career and I feel like coming into this next season, whatever team gives me the opportunity to play, I look forward to having that immediate impact on special teams without a doubt.
Thompson: With your speed and your size, there's even some talk that you could play linebacker in a Cover 2, Tampa 2 scheme. Is there anybody talking to you about making a switch to linebacker?
Barrett: Not in specific detail. That's something that a team would probably orient me to once I got into the system. And that's something that I'd be willing to do to help the team and to get me out on the field. It's something that I'd be open for and eager to try, taking the advice of the coach.
Thompson: As a safety, what do you think your biggest strength is that you would bring to an NFL team?
Barrett: I'd say I'm a consistent tackler, I'm a leader on the field. And I believe the speed at which I play allows me to make plays and to use the different coverages we run to the utmost advantage of our defensive scheme, getting hands on balls and really flying around and making plays.
Josh Barrett moves in on the action.
Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images
Thompson: Your 4.35 40-time at the Combine was the fastest among all of the safeties. Were you surprised at all by that time?
Barrett: I prepared for it. It was something that I was training for down in Fort Lauderdale. There were things we did exclusively for the 40-yard dash, like working on our starts and maintaining strength all the way through those 40 yards. So the times that I have been running training-wise put me in the mindset that I'd be running right around that time, if not a little bit quicker.
Thompson: You had to have received a lot of compliments from teams about that time when you talked to them.
Barrett: Right. They gave me the sense that they're fired up to hear that. But once again, it's a thing where teams will see the credentials and the different measurements that they go through, but it's all about the film and how you perform on the film. You can be a guy, in my case, who is big and fast. But without making any plays, you're just big and fast. They can find those guys out at a track meet somewhere. It's really about having the film to back up the measurements.
Thompson: What do you think people would be surprised to learn about you as a person?
Barrett: Something that a lot of people don't understand with football players is the intelligence that it takes to play the game. For me, I measure my own self by the intelligence that I have, and a lot of my teammates do the same thing. It's something where you have to be versatile. You're thrown different schemes every week and sometimes those schemes are tapered during the course of the game. You've got to be mentally capable to handle the approach that goes into the coaching and the schematics of the game. The other thing in my personal life is that I'm a Christian. I'm been involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes at ASU for the five years that I've been here. It's something that I take a lot of pride in and it's something that helps me. It's a base that a lot of athletes find necessary for them to feel with their heart and helps them on a lot of different grounds.
Thompson: When you were interviewing with coaches or GMs, were there any of them that stick out in your mind as either unusual interviews or that you couldn't believe you were actually sitting there talking to that guy?
Barrett: They were all pretty consistent and I wasn't awe-struck. I was more or less trying to be articulate and communicate the person that I was the best that I could given the time and the questions that were asked.
Thompson: Is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like to comment on, Josh?
Barrett: The only thing that I would add is that the Combine is an awesome experience for anyone who is blessed enough to have the opportunity. I was training and gearing up for it as a lot of guys around the country were, and you really get a sense of a different side of football. Seeing it and striving for it as young kids, we all have that goal of wanting to be a professional athlete. And it's just how a group of people can come from so many different areas and backgrounds, can all strive and get along, and can share so many commonalities in a given place like the Combine. It is an awesome experience and it was something that I'll keep with me for the rest of my life.