Ravens' Barnes testing himself for bigger role

SportsFootballBaltimore RavensNFLTodd HeapDeathAdalius Thomas

After nearly every drill at Ravens passing camp this month, outside linebacker Antwan Barnes sought counsel from a trusted source. But it wasn't position coach Mike Pettine or assistant head coach-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

It was tight end Todd Heap.

Heap is the Ravens' all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Barnes, entering his second year as a pro, said he has learned a lot in his one-on-one encounters with the two-time Pro Bowl veteran this offseason.

"He tends to push off a little bit," Barnes said with a smile. "But it's all good. ... I'm getting the work in against one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Todd Heap. I'm working against him every day, and it doesn't get any better than that."

Pass coverage is the next step for Barnes, who at 23 is expected to become a more integral contributor to a Ravens defense that has ranked in the top six in the NFL in yards allowed in the past three seasons under Ryan.

Barnes, 6 feet 1, 240 pounds, appeared in 14 of the team's 16 games last year, but he didn't begin to have an impact until the latter half of the season, when he totaled 10 tackles and two sacks in the final seven games.

Barnes' ability to rush the quarterback off the edges helped persuade the team's management that it didn't have to select a pass rusher in the draft in April.

Pettine said Barnes, who attended Florida International, will assume a larger role in the defense's third-down packages, but the objective is to mold him into an every-down linebacker.

"We might have some things where he'll be in there with some of the stuff that we did with Adalius Thomas possibly down the road," Pettine said. "But he's got to prove to us first that he can master the individual techniques, and as we feel good about him being able to do certain things, then we'll be able to add more to his plate. But the sky's the limit with him."

Heap said he has been impressed with Barnes' tenacity.

"A lot of times when we're going against each other, coverage is not his strong point right now, but he's getting better," Heap said. "After every play, we're talking and he's asking me, 'Why did you do this?' It's just the little back-and-forth that we have to make each other better."

Barnes' desire to become a starter for the Ravens ("Just to have that honor, I've been waiting on that for the longest," he said.) can be partly traced to his relationship with his grandmother Addie Addington.

Addington raised Barnes and his four siblings starting in 1991 because of conflicts Barnes said he had with his mother. Addington instilled in Barnes a sense of discipline and the importance of education.

Addington did not see Barnes graduate from Norland High School in Miami. She fell into a diabetic coma and died during his junior year in 2001.

Barnes' right biceps bears a tattoo with the words "In memory of Addie." Because of NFL uniform rules, he can no longer slip her picture between his thigh pad and uniform pants as he did at Florida International. But he still acknowledges his grandmother by raising two fingers to the sky after making a sack or a tackle for a loss.

"She was a lot to me," Barnes said. "When I was young and I needed somebody to talk to, she was there for me. She wasn't a disciplinarian, but she liked to talk things over. She just fought for me real hard and for my brothers and sisters. I really thank her for that. Because of her, that's why I'm at where I'm at today."

That is why Barnes is testing himself against Heap, who has gotten open a few times at the linebacker's expense.

"But he's getting better," Pettine said. "He's definitely a work in progress, and it's one of those things where we're going to throw a lot at him, and when the smoke clears, we'll see what he's capable of and what he can do. And we're not going to put him out there unless we feel good that he's mastered the skills."

Barnes said, "I want to show them that I can do it."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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