When linebacker Derrick Barnes arrived at Purdue in 2017, he wasn’t thrilled to be assigned the No. 55. His attitude changed as he researched the number and the great players who had worn it, including Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau.
Barnes became enamored with Seau and linebackers with similar playing styles, such as Ray Lewis. It got to the point where Barnes would watch their clips in the locker room before taking the field each week for Purdue.
“Yeah, actually watched his highlights on YouTube before every game, him and Ray Lewis, guys I look up to,” Barnes said after wrapping up rookie minicamp with the Lions on Sunday. “Just that football mentality that they had, that linebacker mentality that they had, can’t nobody take that away from them. I wanted to develop as a player like that, just downhill making plays, making big plays in the critical situations.”
Barnes managed to do that at Purdue, developing into a team captain with a reputation for being a versatile player who specialized in playing downhill. That success led to the Lions trading for a second fourth-round pick to add him to the roster earlier this month.
Barnes is constantly in search for motivation. In addition to watching Seau and Lewis on the field, the rookie has also been drawn to consuming Lewis’ speeches and interviews. The passion which the former Ravens linebacker talks about winning and having success adds fuel to Barnes’ fire.
“The old souls talking about winning and accomplishing things kind of drives me, it drives me all the time,” Barnes. “I just appreciate the guidance from Ray Lewis in spirit because I never met him in person, but I just appreciate his game.”
Barnes also enjoys studying today’s greats, such as Chicago’s Khalil Mack, looking to glean anything from their games that he can apply to his own.
“Just watching how they run and usually learning technique off them, too,” Barnes explained. “That’s important to me. I’ll be watching somebody do it great and you just develop that and practice it, and it becomes a habit for you, too. So that’s what I do, that’s how I took take my game to the next level is just continue to learn and continue to study.”
Barnes’ playing style and attitude has earned him a fan in Chris Spielman, the former Lions linebacker who is now serving as a special advisor for the franchise.
In a call with season-ticket holders last week, Spielman talked about how difficult it is to find linebacking prospects who meet his lofty standards, but Barnes managed to check the boxes.
“He was an amazing player. For him to look at you and say that you can be something good, something great, it’s just a blessing,” Barnes said.
“Him sharing stories about how he became a great player, you take that to heart if you want to be as great as he was. It’s amazing having all the coaches around and Coach Chris is a blessing. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to work with them, and I can’t wait to move forward with them and do something great here in Detroit.”