There’s two things you should know about Derek Barnett. He’s quiet and he’s tough as hell.
Both have been on display recently.
Barnett doesn’t seek out cameras or recorders. He often tries his hardest to avoid them. During media sessions, he’ll slink to and from his locker, trying to be invisible. He doesn’t want attention and he doesn’t have much to say … to anyone. That usually includes those without microphones too.
So the 23-year-old found himself in a quandary this week when defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz effusively praised him for his toughness, calling Barnett one of the toughest players he’s ever been around.
What’s the origin of your toughness?
“I have no idea. I’m not sure.”
Have you always been one to play through injuries?
“I’m not on the injury report.”
But you were. And you played through an injury in Miami that forced you to miss two weeks.
“It’s straight now.”
See what I mean? Barnett doesn’t like to talk about himself. But it was unavoidable after Schwartz’s comments. In the second quarter of the Miami game a few weeks ago, Barnett suffered a pretty serious ankle injury and had a pronounced limp as he left the field. Somehow, Barnett finished the game, playing 50 snaps.
The injury was serious enough for Barnett to miss the next two games. But he returned to action against Dallas with the season on the line and played his normal role.
Here were Schwartz’s comments about Barnett:
I can't speak to his toughness because he's one of the toughest players I've ever been around. The fact that he played the second half of that Miami game with that ankle just was really amazing to me — and to play as well as he did.
“I think he's always been a guy that will lay it all on the line. He's not the biggest guy in the world, not the fastest guy in the world, but he is one of the toughest guys in the world, and just brings such a presence when he's on the field.
“It was an inspiration to me to get him back on the field just knowing where he had come from and going through that whole week. We really didn't know how much we were going to be able to get out of him.
To put that into context, Jim Schwartz has been in the NFL in some capacity since 1993. So for 27 years, he’s been around gladiators who have risked it all for their teams and teammates and have played through some pretty serious and painful injuries. Schwartz doesn’t toss around high praise willy-nilly.
So when Schwartz says Barnett is one of the toughest players he’s ever been around, it’s pretty notable.
To everyone except Barnett.
“I still got work (to do),” he said. “I appreciate it. But it’s a word. Keep moving, get back to work. Can’t dwell on it. Somebody says something good, just keep moving. Y’all critique us all the time, keep moving.”
The Eagles took Barnett with the No. 14 pick back in 2017 and he’s been pretty good. He hasn’t blossomed into a top tier pass rusher but he’s a solid player who has been productive at times. The big numbers aren’t there but it’s certainly not for lack of effort.
Of course, Barnett isn’t the only Eagles player to fight through injuries. Heck, in the last game Zach Ertz came back in with a fractured rib, Jalen Mills returned with a sprained ankle and Fletcher Cox barely missed any time when he took a shot right on his injured triceps.
“Derek Barnett, he’s a tough dude, man,” Cox said. “He’s a real tough dude. He kind of reminds me of me. It’s real hard to take me out of the game. Obviously, we share a locker together (they’re locker neighbors) and we always talk about just fighting through little things and being there for each other and being brothers. Being able to fight no matter what the circumstances are because you can only enjoy this stuff for so long. You get to go out there and make memories. And then later in life you can talk about the battles and things like that.
“Me and Derek, we talk about stuff like that, playing banged up. We know how much we mean to this locker room, what we mean to this organization, what we mean to this city.”
When asked about those talks, Barnett unsurprisingly didn’t have much to say.
In back-to-back years, Barnett has played through serious injuries. This year was the ankle, last year was a rotator cuff injury that eventually needed surgery. Barnett suffered the injury in Week 4 and came back to battle through two more games before he needed to shut it down and have surgery.
It’s a mentality and it rubs off on younger players.
“He kinda pushed that on me too,” Josh Sweat said. “[Barnett] just wants to be on the field at all times. I admire that. I’m the same way. Shoot, if I get something, if ain’t to the point if my leg ain’t broke or something. That’s just how he carries himself. He wants to be on the field at all times to help the team.”
Barnett on Friday said he’d actually rather receive a criticism than a compliment. Because at least, he said, a criticism could make him better.
As tough as Barnett is, it’s even tougher to get him to react to praise.
“I just try to make sure I’m ready to go when it’s time to go,” Barnett said. “It’s the NFL. A lot of guys are probably going through something.”
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