“I'm not young ... anymore,” the former Bishop Luers standout says. “I'm trying to step up and be a leader. I'm getting to that point. I try to play as hard as I can and bring the defense with me. Hopefully the guys will step up and bring me with them.”
Barnett brought 46 tackles, six passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery (returning it 54 yards for a touchdown against Virginia) to the Hoosiers last season. At 5-10 and 194 pounds, he'll never overwhelm receivers with size, but he's a more physical player, cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby says.
“LB has gotten faster. He understands the playbook. He's done a great job. Now we have to be consistent and make plays when they're there, and we'll be all right.”
Consistency is the mantra of coach Kevin Wilson, who doesn't want a repeat of last year's 1-11 disaster. Barnett is set to play a major role in that.
“LB has been one of our leaders as far as doing things right behind the scenes,” Wilson says. “He's been more consistent. In the secondary he's one of the top 1 or 2 more consistent guys. He is a player, just on size and speed, who needs to be very clean. His room for error, because of his makeup speed and size and coverage, isn't great. So he needs to be fundamentally great, be a great technician guy, be a guy who understands routes to play fast.
“He's doing well.”
That's important as the Hoosiers seek to rebound from last year's Big Ten worst defense, a reflection of being the conference's youngest defense.
“We're making strides,” Barnett says. We're doing things we didn't do so well last year. We're tackling better. The DBs are covering better. Everybody is buying in and playing fast. We have that one goal to be the best defense in the Big Ten.”
Is that possible, to go from worst to best in one year without an influx of nationally rated talent?
“We have to be collective as a defense and play as one strong unit, win games and be the best defense in the Big Ten,” Barnett says.
That goal hasn't produced a dramatically different spring approach, he adds
“Not on the coaches' part,” Barnett says. “They're the same, but the players are buying in a little more. Last year we didn't know what to expect. We weren't used to their ways. Now we know what to expect and what (Wilson) wants. We want to buy in instead of going through the motions.”
Spring practice ends with the April 14 spring game. The semester ends a few weeks after that. Barnett plans to return to Fort Wayne, take a week off, “Just to get my legs back because this (spring practice) is a grind,” then train with AWP (as in “Athletes With Purpose") Sports Performance before returning to Bloomington in June for the second summer school session.
“That's some serious training,” Barnett says about AWP. “It's tough up there.”