He's too small. Too flamboyant. Too this. Too that.
But there's no denying the impact made by the emotional heartbeat of the Green Bay Packers' defense last season. During the first four games of last season, Barnett was limited to part-time duty as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered during a midseason game at Minnesota on Nov. 9, 2008. During those first four games in 2009, the Packers allowed 23.3 points per game and ranked 18th in the NFL in run defense. Over the final 12 games, the Packers allowed 17.0 points per game and surged to No. 1 in the NFL in run defense.
To be sure, Barnett wasn't the only reason for the improvement. But what's inarguable is that the more comfortable Barnett got with his knee and with the defense, the better the defense as a whole played.
Like last year, Barnett sat out the offseason workouts, so he didn't take any reps with Dom Capers' new defense until the week before the preseason finale. After the season, he had a minor procedure done on the knee to clean up some scar tissue, which he says wasn't necessary but will improve the range of motion. Unlike last year, when Barnett sat out almost all of training camp, he's expected to be back on the field on July 31.
"I thought we played well as a defensive unit last year. I thought I played well," Barnett said. "I expect to improve just by knowing the defense better and being more comfortable knowing what's expected out of me in certain plays. Because I didn't do anything last year and we were putting the new defense in, so I think by the fourth game is when I really started knowing the defense. So this year, I think there will be a lot more just reacting instead of thinking about what I'm supposed to do a lot earlier."
Even with the lack of practice time last year and the limited playing time early in the season, Barnett led the team with 122 tackles, including 96 solo, and ranked third on the team with a career-high four sacks.
Anecdotally, players coming off ACL reconstruction are better in the second year than the first, and Barnett thinks that will be the case with him. He said he feels more comfortable and has more "trust" doing the kinds of stressful, explosive movements that a linebacker must make.
"I think we were as an organization extremely conservative with him. He didn't take any reps until training camp, he was on a rotation for the first part of last year, still ends up being highly impactful, blitzing from the inside and outside, still led the team in tackles, still very, very productive," inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said.
"From that standpoint, he's now going to be two years removed from the injury when the season rolls around, so I would anticipate a Barnett who gets back to playing with that chip that he had in '07 and I expect to see a very impactful player. Once we get into the season, if he's green-lit 100 percent, then we have to get him going, because when he's impactful, with him playing on an edge, this defense has been very good. He was very good last year. He's going to be a lot better because we're going into a second year, he's going to have a comfort level with the defense and a healthy knee, so there's a lot to be excited about."
Barnett also is excited. He feels better about the knee and his role in a defense that will be expanded now that Capers has a better grasp of what his playmakers – like Barnett – can do.
"Yeah, I think we'll have a lot of different things in place and a lot of different things ready," he said. "Last year, we had a young team and we were just learning a whole new scheme, whole new front, everything. So, I just think with the knowledge and the comfortableness of the guys, I think we'll be doing a lot of different things and kind of mixing it up."
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.