Antwan Barnes lined up outside Carolina Panthers left offensive tackle Jordan Gross, bolting out of his stance like a sprinter.
Gross couldn’t even come close to matching Barnes’ speed.
The 2008 Pro Bowl selection ultimately had to resort to illegal tactics to prevent the Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker from striking quarterback Matt Moore during a 17-12 victory Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
Substituting for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Barnes whipped Gross at least three times. He drew two holding penalties against Gross to nullify a pair of completions that would have gone for first downs.
“My whole goal was just to get to the quarterback,” Barnes said. “Unfortunately, I got held in the process. I would love to get a sack in the process, but a hold is good, too. I didn’t plan for him to hold me, I just wanted to beat him. I’d rather get the sack than the hold.”
The 6-foot-1, 251-pounder wound up recording five tackles, one for a loss and pounced on a loose football for a key fumble recovery.
The Ravens registered seven sacks for the night.
“I thought Antwan was explosive coming off the edge,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He had a couple near-sacks and rushed him out of the pocket a few times. He’s done that all camp.”
When safety Haruki Nakamura popped the football out of Tyrell Sutton’s hands at the Ravens’ one-yard line, Barnes alertly snared it to prevent a possible touchdown.
“It was just good eyes,” Barnes said. “I’m running trying to make the tackle and I see it out of the corner of my eye and the first thing I thought to do was drop. I just dropped then cradled it in my arms. I didn’t realize where I recovered the ball at. As long as the defense got off the field, it’s a good thing.”
Drafted in the fourth round three years ago out of Florida International, Barnes could emerge as a key contributor as a situational pass rusher on third downs.
He’s also capable of providing depth in the base defense.
Last season, Barnes posted a career-high three sacks, his first NFL interception and forced a fumble.
“That’s basically what they drafted me for, to come in here and rush the passer,” Barnes said. “In third-down situations, two-minute situations, I want to be that guy that comes in and does that. So, it’s me going on the field and showing them I can do it.”
Meanwhile, second-year defensive end Paul Kruger had 1 ½ sacks and four tackles against Carolina.
Kruger has bulked up to 275 pounds as a full-time defensive end after finishing last season as a 255-pound outside linebacker.
“That was great to see, young guys bringing it,” Harbaugh said. “Most of it was three and four-man rush. Our pressure package was there early.”
Barnes’ emergence is extremely timely with rookie outside linebacker Sergio Kindle expected to miss the entire season due to a fractured skull.
“It was pretty nice to get out there against somebody else and just showcase what we’ve been doing all summer, all training camp, all that we’ve been learning and taking in from the coaches,” Barnes said.
“They just wanted to see me going against the first-team o-line, seeing if I can do it and everything like that. I’m just out there to prove, to show that I can go against anybody.”