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Thursday, June 5, 2014
'Slow' recovery by Barnes hurts pass rush

By Rich Cimini

You haven't heard too much about Antwan Barnes since he wrecked his knee last October in Atlanta, but his name came up Wednesday in Rex Ryan's news conference -- and not in a positive way.

Ryan provided an ominous prognosis, saying the recovery from major surgery has been "slow" and that Barnes has encountered "some different issues." Ryan said Barnes will miss the remainder of the offseason (OTA practices and the minicamp), adding that he's hopeful, but not certain the veteran outside linebacker will be ready for the start of training camp on July 23.

When a coach acknowledges that much publicly, it usually means the player's situation is worse than he's letting on. If that's the case here, it's unfortunate for Barnes and the Jets, because he was an underrated player last season, the closest thing they had to a true speed rusher on the edge.

In five games, Barnes -- used primarily as a third-down rusher -- played a total of 145 defensive snaps. Despite the small body of work, he produced 16 quarterback hits (according to the team stats) and two sacks. His speed provided a nice change-of-pace to power rushers such as Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

Third down is an area that must improve. The Jets recorded sacks on 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And that was with a career year by Calvin Pace. What are the chances of notching another 10-sack season at the age of 34?

If Barnes isn't 100 percent by the regular season, the Jets' depth at outside linebacker will be suspect. Remember, they didn't address the position in the draft until the later rounds, when they picked IK Enemkpali (a converted defensive end) and Trevor Reilly in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. The returning backups are Garrett McIntyre and Jermaine Cunningham, a former Patriot who has worked with the starting nickel unit in OTAs.

Clearly, the Jets need more production out of Quinton Coples and another good year out of Pace. But, again, we're talking about players that rely on more power than speed. They'll lose something if Barnes isn't Barnes. If his struggles continue, his roster spot could be in jeopardy. He's due to make $1.2 million (cap charge: $1.5 million), and they could save $900,000 by releasing him.