Coming into the 2013 offseason, new general manager John Idzik had many holes to fill on the New York Jets roster with one of the worst salary cap situations in the NFL. With a budget that required Idzik to pursue “bargain bin” players, former San Diego Chargers pass rush specialist Antwan Barnes was signed by the Jets to a three year deal. Barnes is coming off of a year in which he was limited due to a hamstring injury and put on the injured reserve in December. Although Barnes doesn’t possess Pro Bowl caliber career numbers, there are multiple reasons he’s poised for success and a big role with the current Jet defense.
History: Barnes was a standout pass rusher at Florida International University, registering a school record of 22 sacks throughout his career. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens, Barnes made an impact on special teams and occasional pass rush situations in limited attempts (registering 2 sacks and a forced fumble as a rookie). In his sophomore season Barnes became buried in a depth chart full of linebackers and struggled to find a role on the defense, but became a premier special teams player. In his third pro season, which would be his last with the Ravens, Barnes was a pass rushing specialist and recorded three sacks while also remaining on special teams. After the 2009 season he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 7th round pick, but never found a role with the team and was released in October. The Chargers signed Barnes, a move that paid off for both parties involved. In his first two seasons with the Chargers, Barnes recorded a total of 15.5 sacks in limited time with the base defense. After an injury depleted 2012, the Jets signed Barnes to play significant time at one of their vacant outside linebacker spots for the upcoming NFL season.
Role with the Jets: Barnes should see a significant amount of snaps on the Jets defense as Rex is ready to go back to their aggressive style often seen from 2009-2011. An athletic 250 pound linebacker who runs a 4.43 forty yard dash, Barnes could be used as a blitzer on first and second downs and an outside rusher on third downs. Fans should keep their expectations limited when it comes to Barnes run defense, as he has yet to really see the field as a first and second down run stopper in a full time role. What he can contribute is a consistent pass rush on passing downs, as he’s succeeded in this role throughout his entire career. Outside the sack numbers, Barnes game shows up on tape. After viewing some tape from his best season (2011), he displays excellent closing speed once he wins his matchup, forcing an errant throw or wrapping up the quarterback for a sack. Unlike Aaron Maybin, Antwan Barnes possesses multiple moves to gain leverage inside, while using his speed to rush on the outside.
What to expect: Although he missed a majority of last season due to injury, that hasn’t been Barnes issue throughout his career. Both Baltimore and San Diego viewed him as a “pass rushing specialist”, a fancy term for a guy that’s only job is to get after the quarterback on passing downs. In this limited role Barnes has found a way to get to the quarterback. More importantly, Rex Ryan’s defense puts his players in areas they have strengths. Barnes won’t be expected to cover elite tight ends or stone wall linemen to stop the run.
With Calvin Pace back (an underwhelming-non existent pass rusher but solid run stuffer) and a defensive line that commands double teams to run against (Mo Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis), Barnes will most likely be used much like he was with the Chargers in 2011. Countless times the Jets have given up big gains on opposing team’s third downs not due to coverage, but to a non-existent pass rush. Mike Pettine’s defense was relying on players like Pace and Bryan Thomas to get to the quarterback on third down, after playing steady against the run and short passes on first and second downs. Allowing players such as Barnes to develop a niche not only sets them up for success, but the entire team to succeed as they have less to focus on. Barnes will be told to find a way to the quarterback, the only role he’s ever known and one he’s certainly excelled at.