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Barton Knows What Needs to Be Accomplished


Eric Barton, his mohawk almost grown in now, said he hasn't planned any locker room shenanigans involving any teammates recently.

"I hope it stays that way," he said from his locker today. "It will if any pranks aren't at my expense. I don't like to initiate but I like to react."

But ask the Jets inside linebacker's close football friends and they'll say several things about him. For one, don't believe him when he says he's hung up his joy buzzer and plastic vomit for the holiday season.

"Eric's crazy and hyper," said cornerback Darrelle Revis. "He's always telling jokes."

"He's crazy," safety Kerry Rhodes concurred. "He's one of those guys who's going to lighten up the day some way."

Another is that Barton is one smart dude.

"What I like about Eric is things come very quickly to him," head coach Eric Mangini said. "The information and the tips that you give him — his recall is excellent."

"The biggest thing I have to say about EB is he's incredibly intelligent," said backup guard Robert Turner, who frequently battles Barton as the look team's guard or center in practice. "He understands what's trying to be accomplished."

And a third observation is that as the Jets continue to soar, Barton shouldn't keep flying under the radar. Just ask David Bowens, who for the last 4½ games has been starting alongside No. 50 in the middle of the Jets' intriguingly effective defense.

"He doesn't get a lot of credit. I think it's good that you're writing about him because he deservedly needs someone to say something," said Bowens, an inside 'backer this season for the first time in his solid professional career. "It's helped me out a lot with my transition. He gets everyone else lined up. He's like our eyes out there."

Barton turns a hairy eyeball to compliments like that. Somewhere deep inside, the 10th-year pro who once played in a Super Bowl with the Raiders might love the recognition of his teammates or the fans and media around the NFL, but he does a great job of convincing beat reporters and spelling bee moderators that there is no "I" in team.

"I really don't care how I do as long as the team is doing well," he said. "I think when we played Arizona, I may have had five tackles and we won by 30 points. That's fine. I have 20 tackles and we win by one point, that's fine."

And when he gets 17 tackles by his coaches' video breakdown in the crucial Thursday night overtime road win over the Patriots, that's super-fine.

"It was fun," he said of that night, "but it shouldn't have been so fun because we had a chance to close the game out and we didn't. We didn't play four quarters like we should. It was a good game, but it could have been better. We could have executed better where I wouldn't have to make so many tackles and we wouldn't have been on the field as long."

A lot of players on average or losing teams express the same sentiments. But on a Green & White outfit that is finally getting recognition as one of the AFC's top teams, Barton has been the Crazy Glue holding the defensive side of the ball together.

When Harris went down, he took over as the leading tackler and now has a Jets-high 82 stops for the season. In the last three games he's been filling the gaps impressively with four tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.

And from the team perspective, he's been in the middle of a unit that is ranked third in the NFL run defense, third in takeaway drive percentage, and has improved from 24th in overall defense and 28th in scoring defense after Week 4 to 13th and tied for 11th respectively.

Yet after big NT Kris Jenkins and shutdown CB Darrelle Revis, try to find weekly stars in this unit. It's hard to do.

"A lot of times, when a defense is good, no one really sticks out," Barton said philosophically, "because everyone's doing what they're supposed to do."

And with that, Barton, the reformed prankster, gets ready for another easy-on-the-fun Wednesday practice. As he walks out the locker room door, Jenkins has just opened for business and reporters have drifted to that side of the locker room oval.

But then Brett Favre sounds the airhorn for about the third time this day, and as he slips on his red No. 4 jersey over padless shoulders, Mr. Mohawk slips back in the locker room.

"Hey, Brett! Hey, Brett! I know you hear me," he yells as the QB tries his best to ignore his linebacker buddy. "Put some pads on. I'm gonna put my hard ones on."

So much for that embargo. But as Rhodes said, "You need to have guys like that on the team."

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