Barton eyes the snap
There has been quite a buzz about the Jets linebackers through the first two weeks of training camp. How quickly can top draft pick Vernon Gholston get acclimated and how much of an impact can he make? How will big free agent acquisition Calvin Pace fit into the defense? Can Bryan Thomas return to his 2006 form? How will David Harris follow up his sparkling rookie season?
And then there's Eric Barton, who seems to have avoided the maelstrom. The attention hasn't been around Barton, but he has been around the ball. He has been one of the standouts in a defensive unit that has, at times, looked impervious during camp.
"That's fine," Barton said of being low-key. "We're a team and all I'm concerned with is doing well and getting the job done. In fact, I'm kind of glad I haven't gotten much attention."
His teammates on offense are certainly paying close attention to him, though. Barton has made certain of that, forcing four turnovers (including two interceptions) already and looking solid roaming the middle of the field.
But perhaps the reason he hasn't drawn more eyes and comments is because he has been a constant in a defense that has undergone a major schematic modification and been revamped over the last couple of seasons. Barton was acquired by the Jets in 2004 and only he and Shaun Ellis remain from that year's defense.
"I feel that I have to be a leader, myself and Shaun," said Barton, who is entering his 10th NFL season. "Since I've been here for a while and been here for the [changes], I can help a lot of the guys. I try to be an extra coach, directing people and making sure everything goes as it's supposed to."
His direction has certainly helped Harris. The inside linebacker entered the lineup midway through his rookie season but still totaled 126 tackles and five sacks, and he has often credited Barton for a portion of his success. In addition to the intangibles, Barton played alongside Harris in the middle and often took on the blocking guards, allowing the youngster to make plays.
Having been through four seasons with the Jets, Barton has been around for the ups and downs. He knows success — i.e., the two playoff campaigns — and he knows disappointment, as in last year's 4-12 record.
"It was a humbling experience," he said. "It was embarrassing and painful. But I also think it brought us closer together as a defense. We went through the toughest of tough times and stuck together. I think that's something to look back on as we go forward."
Going forward, Barton is pleased with the progress the defense has made and is excited about what it could become.
"It's going well," said Barton, who shifted inside from outside linebacker to fit into coach Eric Mangini's 3-4 scheme. "It's the third year, so we're more used to it and we've brought in some new guys to fit the system. I'm expecting big things from us this year. The sky is the limit with our talent. We can be one of the best in the league."
The group looked capable in Saturday's Green & White Practice. Granted, a split-squad contest with limited contact and reduced clock time certainly isn't a great gauge of dominance, but something must be said for the defenses holding the combined score to 17 points.
"Overall, we did well but we made too many mistakes out there," Barton said, grading hard. "But I was happy to see that after we reviewed it, we took care of that stuff in today's [morning] practice and I didn't see those same mistakes made."
Individually, he's also looking forward to a bounceback season. Barton recorded 73 tackles and two sacks last year, which was a dropoff from the 100 tackles and 4½ sacks he produced two years ago.
"I feel great and I'm in good shape," he said. "I expect to play hard and contribute. I can't think about numbers, but I want to make plays and do some things to change the game. I think it will happen."
Aside from the coach-on-the-field stuff, Barton is known as a locker room comic and prankster. He can even be heard playfully taunting teammates during drills. Kris Jenkins described him as "a clown 24/7" and said that he brings levity and lots of laughs — at least to the people who aren't the butt of the jokes or victims of his pranks.
Barton hasn't pulled anything off yet, but warned that he's got something up his sleeve. The timing just needs to be right.
"I'm waiting until guys start getting tired of camp," he said with a laugh. "When everyone's energy is sapped and we start to get stagnant, that's when I'll spring it on them. When everybody is upset and cranky, that's the best time to get them."