WESTMINSTER — Antwan Barnes knifed into the Washington Redskins’ backfield, taking a low angle like a speed skater to harass quarterback Colt Brennan into a mistake.
The Baltimore Ravens reserve outside linebacker’s athleticism was on full display, adeptly dropping back into pass coverage on another play to nearly intercept an errant pass as he jumped a route and batted the football down.
Plus, he burst down the field for a special-teams tackle on a kickoff while also registering two tackles on defense.
It was a versatile performance.
And it served notice that a lighter, quicker, healthier Barnes, following surgery to repair a torn pectoral from last season, is emerging as a better all-around football player and a prime contender for playing time as a situational pass rusher and on kick coverage.
"Antwan has gotten better at everything, that’s the thing," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "And he needed to get better at everything. Even what his forte is supposed to be, rushing the passer, he’s really smoothed that out.
"He’s got a couple of moves now, a counter or two. But he’s playing the run so much better. He’s playing with technique. He’s playing harder. That’s something that’s got to continue on every day, every game, every practice, but he’s doing the things that we’ve asked him to do and he’s responded really well."
For Barnes, his self-improvement goes beyond dropping 10 pounds to get down to a leaner 240 pounds.
And it’s centered on more than the former fourth-round draft pick from Florida International learning new techniques and harnessing his athletic ability.
Barnes’ upgraded motivation stems from being a new father and striving in his career to provide for his five-month-old daughter Alyssa, who celebrated her birthday Wednesday in his hometown of Miami, Fla.
"The birth of my daughter, knowing I’m out here on the field every day, I’m doing it for her," Barnes said. "Last year, there really was nobody to do it for except for my grandma. Now, it’s just my grandma and my daughter."
Heading into his third NFL season, Barnes has continually displayed impressive potential.
This may be the year, though, where he turns that ability into something more tangible than 13 career defensive tackles, two sacks and 17 special-teams stops in 27 career games.
"I dedicated myself to the offseason workouts," said Barnes, who spent a lot of time working out in the South Florida heat. "I’m much quicker, I’m more alert, just everything."
To get to that point, though, Barnes needed the skilled work of a surgeon to fix the damage suffered against the Dallas Cowboys in a late-season game.
The injury wound up sidelining him for the remainder of the regular season and three playoff games.
"That was a big deal," he said. "I came through it fortunately, and it worked out."
Against the Redskins, Barnes nearly recorded a safety.
Although it was only a preseason game, it meant a lot to Barnes in terms of shedding the rust accumulated from missing so much time.
"I’m just getting everything back," Barnes said. "I’m in tune. It’s going to be on."
In college, Barnes was a dominant force.
He became his school’s all-time leading pass rusher with 23 sacks, also posting a career-high 11 sacks in 2005. Plus, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns and blocked three kicks.
However, last season wasn’t what Barnes hoped for at all. His playing time on defense dwindled and he wound up notching no sacks.
Now, Barnes is working diligently to add new moves to his pass-rushing repertoire.
"I’m just trying to open up new things," Barnes said. "All the things I’m doing are I put a couple moves in and add on to it."
And his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
Ever since the launch of training camp, Barnes has been in the thick of the action. He has regularly tackled shifty running back Ray Rice in the open field, which isn’t an easy task.
"Antwan Barnes has really had the spotlight on him this entire camp because we know what he can do, we know what we need him to do," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He has done a very good job throughout camp of rushing the passer and working as the SAM [strongside] at the linebacker position. So, we’re excited about him."
So, Barnes’ hope is that he’ll be granted more playing time in the base defense as well as forging a vital role on third downs.
"I’m trying to do everything it takes," he said. "I look forward to special teams. Whenever my name is called on defense, go and make plays."
Barnes won’t celebrate his 25th birthday until October, but he’s already gaining the wisdom of what it takes to move forward in his career.
"Be one of the older guys," Barnes said with a smile. "You know, I’m right where I want to be as far as where I’m at and what I’m doing."