Buffs LB Barnes Ready To Make Every-Game Impact
BOULDER — Colorado graduate transfer linebacker Robert Barnes spent much of 2021 learning on the fly.
Now he's ready to fly full-time.
A safety for most of his career, Barnes arrived as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma last season and made the move to linebacker. While he played in 11 games last season, including three starts, he still admits to enduring some "growing pains" as he became accustomed to his new role.
But near the end of the season, he began to feel comfortable — and the results showed.
In Colorado's 20-17 win over Washington in Week 11, Barnes played 62 snaps and produced maybe the best game of his career. He stopped a UW drive in the third quarter with an interception, set up a CU field goal in the fourth quarter with a fumble recovery and finished with a season-high 10 tackles.
Now, expected to settle into a full-time starter's role inside, he wants to make that late-season performance a regular occurrence in 2022.
"I want everyone to know that people should expect every game next year to be like that," Barnes said Friday, after the Buffs wrapped up their second practice of the spring. "I set those standards for myself and want to be held to them — and I think every one of us on defense is setting that standard. We want to be active, physical and create turnovers."
No doubt, CU fans have come to expect that kind of production in recent years from Colorado's inside linebacker spot, where Nate Landman roamed for four seasons.
Barnes appears ready to continue that dominant style of play. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he now has the size to play inside, and still has a safety's speed that allows him to play sideline-to-sideline.
"I'm ready to be that every-down linebacker," said Barnes. "It's going to get physical in the box and I believe I'm ready this year to take on that role."
Even with the hole created by Landman's graduation, inside linebackers coach Mark Smith won't have a shortage of quality players this year. Senior Quinn Perry, who finished with 79 tackles last season while putting 11 starts under his belt, returns and will no doubt be a big part of the equation. Meanwhile, youngsters such as Mister Williams and Marvin Ham II should compete for time, and true freshman Eoghan Kerry is already turning heads in spring ball.
Barnes should also find himself stepping into an even more important leadership role this year. While he quickly earned the respect of his teammates last season through his work ethic and knowledge of the game — as well as his background of coming from a perennial title contender at Oklahoma — that role will become an even bigger emphasis this year.
"It's definitely enhanced this year," Barnes said. "I'm more comfortable in our defense, I know the scheme and I like to lead by example. But what I really like about this year is that the whole team has taken over the leadership. You can already see it this spring. We've all taken the responsibility and accountability of setting the tone."
Part of that "total team" attitude may have its seeds from a team meeting last January. When the Buffs reconvened after the holiday break — and after a number of former players had elected to enter the transfer portal — Barnes said the message was clear.
"We all agreed — if you don't want to be here, get out," Barnes said. "If you do want to be here, act like it. We decided right then that this team will not accept anything other than winning."
Barnes said the spring has produced a new energy within the team, fueled in part by six new assistant coaches.
"You can sense it," he said. "I think everyone on this team is part of that energy. Every day, no matter if it's the one, twos or threes, there are 11 guys on defense and 11 guys on offense working together."