August 10, 2011
Barnett back, hopes to be better
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Just over an hour into Ohio State's first practice of fall camp Monday, C.J. Barnett jumped a Taylor Graham pass, picked it off, and took it back for a touchdown.
Shortly into Tuesday's practice, Jake Stoneburner caught a pass over the middle before receiving a slight pop from Barnett. Both players weren't wearing pads, but had the play been live Barnett would've delivered the punishing hit he was clearly itching to make.
Those were the types of plays Barnett was seemingly on the way to contributing consistently last year before blowing out his knee in the Miami game, just the third contest of the season.
Instead of going from unexpectedly winning a starting safety spot in fall camp and going on to help Ohio State to yet another Big Ten title, Barnett was doomed to a year filled of rehab and missed time.
"Stuff happens," Barnett simply said when referring to an injury that seemed to derailed an incredible amount of progress. "Me not being able to play just allowed others to play, and we all can play.
"For anybody its tough not to play if you're a competitor - you always want to play," he continued. "But my boys were out there playing good, so all you can do is be happy for them."
Ironically enough, it was an injury to Orhian Johnson during fall camp last year that opened the door for the somewhat unknown Barnett to come in and compete with the first team.
While Johnson was out nursing a minor injury to his calf muscle, Barnett stepped up big and won over the coaches. Always eager to deliver a big hit, the soft-spoken Barnett snatched the starting job away from Johnson and wouldn't relinquish until week four after suffering the serious knee injury.
Johnson went on to remain in the starting spot for the remainder of the 2010 season. Though Barnett missed live action in spring football, he now has stepped in next to Johnson at safety with the first team defense.
Barnett hopes now he'll have the opportunity to pick up from where he left off a year ago.
"I got better with knowing the whole defense and how schemes work and the concepts of the defense because I was able to study more," Barnett said. "Being back out here makes you appreciate it.
"Anything can happen and you can be done really quick. I know going through camp last year and other years we all dread it, but after going through an injury you appreciate being out here every day."
The enthusiasm has shined through in Barnett's performance in practice in the early goings of fall camp, as he's undoubtedly been one of the most recognizable players on Ohio State's defense.
Actively flying around and drawing contact despite not wearing pads, Barnett has been able to put the injury behind him and focus on preparing as one of the team's projected starters.
Ohio State won't put full pads on later this week - giving Barnett a real chance to shine given his love for drawing contact - but he's already drawing attention from his teammates.
"One thing about C.J. is that he knows the defense really well," cornerback Travis Howard said. "He knows where he has to be, when he has to be there, and he can anticipate where the ball is going to go. That allows our defense to make more plays and our secondary to be more together.
"When he went down last year it hurt me because I knew what type of player he was," Howard continued. "To having him back this year healthy and strong, it is only a big positive for our defense."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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