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Barnes Ready to Take Next Step


It wasn't too long ago when Antwan Barnes was a fresh-faced rookie attempting to soak up as much information as he could from his NFL forbearers.

The former fourth-round draft pick out of Florida International is just one year removed from offseason workouts at the University of Miami, where he joined several rookies training for their first-ever professional training camp.

Current teammates such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Willis McGahee would pass in and out of the Hurricanes' facility, offering some sage advice to the fledgling footballers.

"Training with them, you're getting to speak with these veterans on a daily basis about how to be a pro, what their experiences were like," Barnes said. "It's a great package. You're not only working out and getting in shape with them, but you can learn from how they train and by picking their brain."

Now with a full season under his belt, Barnes has enjoyed being somewhat of a guidance counselor at those workout sessions.

While taking classes at FIU in his hometown of Miami, Barnes shared the weight room with recent draft picks Kenny Phillips (New York Giants), Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals) and the Ravens' own Tavares Gooden, among other rookies.

"I played against them in college, so we had that connection," Barnes said. "When it was time for them to come out, I talked to them a little bit about how things work up here."

Barnes, 23, certainly had his share of unique stories to pass along, considering he was receiving hate mail before ever playing in a regular-season contest.

No, the letters weren't from frustrated Baltimore fans. The linebacker's mailbox filled up after his preseason debut last year against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Barnes lit up 6-foot-4, 265-pound punter Sav Rocca, knocking the Australian's helmet off with a vicious shoulder to the head.

The Philadelphia faithful immediately took out their pens and stationary in response to the hit.

It was a memorable opening to Barnes' rookie campaign, one that clearly demonstrated his raw athleticism and intensity - qualities that head coach John Harbaugh values as he shapes a new team.

And while the hit was certainly a "Welcome to the NFL" moment for Rocca, Barnes thinks his experience dealing with the professional spotlight helped him mature.

"At the end of the year, I didn't know I'd have so many crazy stories to tell, like with the punter situation and the fines," Barnes said. "I couldn't believe I got hate letters from Philly fans. It's just a part of the game, but you learn from those things."

Now, Barnes believes he is primed for a breakout season. After seeing action in 14 games, Barnes' eight tackles and two sacks may not be monster statistics, but his rare gifts have Harbaugh dreaming of No. 50 constantly terrorizing opposing backfields.

If the Ravens' first mandatory minicamp, where he displayed his trademark quickness by blowing by offensive tackles on more than one occasion, is any indication, Barnes is off to a good start.

"Antwan is in the mix defensively," Harbaugh said. "He's competing for playing time defensively. He'll certainly be on special teams. He's a good, young football player."

Barnes stood out for an unproven program at FIU, where he established school records with 23 sacks and an amazing 57 tackles for loss as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid. Such production would be perfect for a pressure-intensive Ravens defense that only mustered 32 sacks last season.

But Barnes doesn't want to be simply known as a pass rusher, admitting that his goal is to become an every-down player in 2008.

Due in part to the absence of Terrell Suggs at early minicamps, Barnes has had much more of a chance to work on his open-field coverage skills and take his hand out of the dirt. There is much to learn, but Barnes doesn't think that learning curve is too steep.

Additionally, Harbaugh's retention of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and outside linebackers coach Mike Pettine have kept the integrity of the Ravens' defense intact.

"We're all trying to click with everyone back here," Barnes noted. "It's great having Rex and coach Pettine back, because they know what I can do.

"This year, it's not about me learning a lot of new things. All I have to do is take another step up."

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