'He ain't going to be a surprise'

OWINGS MILLS -- Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes accelerated toward the line of scrimmage, gritting his teeth as he threatened offensive tackle Mike Kracalik's outside shoulder. In an ear-splitting collision, both players' helmets popped off and rolled around the turf at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex.

In another sequence at a mandatory minicamp that concluded Sunday, Barnes dashed a dozen yards at the snap of the football and penetrated the backfield on a blitz to harass quarterback Troy Smith.

It was another set of reminders of the damage that can be created by Barnes' rare combination of size and speed, a few additional reasons for the Ravens to feel reassured about not acquiring a pass rusher during a talent-rich NFL draft.

"That was a big relief, whew," Barnes said of the Ravens not selecting another similar hybrid outside linebacker one year after picking him in the fourth round. "Rex Ryan told me this year is supposed to be a big step for me. I'm trying to be one of the stars on the team. I've taken time out to study and mature, and I'm ready for whatever happens."

Although Barnes recorded just 10 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumbles as a rookie, the Ravens won't be shocked if he emerges with a breakthrough second season.

"He ain't going to be a sleeper, because everybody knows who he is," veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "He might surprise himself, but he won't surprise any of us. He's fast and he explodes.

"I think he's got that rookie thing out of his system where you say, 'I got it, I got it,' and then somebody throws you down on the ground. It took him a minute, but now I think he understands."

The Ravens definitely need to revive their pass rush after dipping to 32 sacks as a team last season with Pryce sidelined for most of the season with injuries and Terrell Suggs slumping to a career-low and a team-high five sacks.

The potential Barnes is displaying could lead to a versatile situational role. He's lined up everywhere from outside linebacker to defensive end and even safety in a few schemes.

During the majority of his snaps, Barnes has been playing Suggs' rush end spot with the unsigned franchise player absent from practice due to a contract dispute.

There have been a lot more pure standup linebacker repetitions for Barnes than last season when he primarily operated as an undersized down lineman as a situational rusher in the sub package.

"Basically, they are moving me around a little bit more, standing me up," Barnes said. "It's really more like a Terrell Suggs role. There are going to be times when I'm on the field and Trevor is on the field at the same time. Whatever they want me to do, I'm up to it."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has made it a point to talk with Barnes after practice, advising him on technique and special-teams assignments.

The lessons appear to be paying off.

"He's in the mix, he's competing for playing time defensively," Harbaugh said. "He's certainly going to play special teams. Good young football player."

With Barnes evolving into playing multiple positions, it's a tad reminiscent of former Ravens All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas.

However, Barnes prefers to establish his own identity.

"You want to build your own name," Barnes said. "That's what I'm trying to do."

Barnes was immortalized on YouTube last summer during a preseason game when he devastated unsuspecting Philadelphia Eagles punter Sav Rocca with a forearm shiver and right shoulder, popping the helmet off the 6-foot-4, 265-pound former Austrailian rules standout.

Following that huge hit last August, Barnes has gotten even bigger. A rigorous weightlifting program has bulked him up 15 pounds. Barnes is up to 6-1, 255 pounds while maintaining his 4.5 speed.

"I had to get a little bigger to take on those blocks," Barnes said. "I'm still growing with it."

Barnes arrived in Baltimore last season with a reputation as a top pass rusher as Florida International's all-time leader with 23 sacks and 57 tackles for losses. He forced six fumbles, returned two interceptions for touchdowns and blocked three kicks.

He established the school's all-time single-season sacks record with 11 as a junior, and set a single-game record with four sacks against Middle Tennessee State.

Now, Barnes is hoping to push for increased playing time in the NFL.

"I just want to show everyone that I'm worth it," Barnes said. "I plan on being here for a while, so just get used to me. It's going to be exciting."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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