Tales from the SunnySide: Connor Barwin

If the V-word (versatility) is really going to be Josh McDaniels’ MO, thy name is Connor Barwin. This is a very rare player who really can do it all. How many players in the past five years could you draft respectably as a TE and draft highly as a 4-3 DE, 3-4 OLB, 4-3 SAM or 4-3 DE? Offensively and defensively, Connor Barwin is as close to a complete package as a modern player can be and he’s rocketing up the draft boards after an excellent showing at the Combine.

His defensive coordinator, Cincinnati’s Joe Tresey said, ''He has a passion for the game, and I don't care where you play and what position you play, when you have that type of demeanor and that type of attitude, you're going to be successful,

``We could have put him at quarterback, probably, and had a chance to win a bunch of games with him. It's just the kind of kid he is. He loves to play. His demeanor is just go, man, go, and his motor is relentless and he's a football player.''

(I put that last in italics:  It’s almost word-for- word what Jim Goodman said about Spencer Larsen.)

A perfect example of a black Irish gentleman, with a face that needs to be shaved no less than twice a day and an Irishman’s easy laugh, Conner Barwin was born to play football. It just took him a while to find that out.

Barwin’s leaping ability comes to him naturally.  Connor first wanted to play basketball or lacrosse, but he finished high school at Detroit University Jesuit High School rated as the 17th-best football player in Michigan by The Detroit Free Press. In addition, He was a First-Team All-State selection as a senior for head coach Scott Merchant. He was the recipient of both the team's offensive and defensive MVP awards. He was selected for the East-West All-Star Game, was an All-league selection in basketball as a junior and all-Catholic as a senior.  He helped his  school to a district title as a junior.

He spent two years playing for Cincinnati’s basketball team as a walk-on power forward, but decided to concentrate on football. When football was in season, sometimes he would practice with both teams in a single day. It never bothered him. But he came to see something.

I realized 6-foot-4, white power forwards aren't going to get too many college basketball offers. Football was the way, and it's worked out great.''

 As a pro, you’d have to start out with what he can do for your offense. He did start there - He was a three-year starter at tight end and was awarded with First All-Big East status for his hard work. At 6’4" and somewhere between 250 and 262 lbs (252 at Combine), he’s exactly the type of player you want either protecting your quarterback or catching passes on good, tight routes.

He’s ideal for the modern parlance term ‘h-back’ – someone who may be slightly lighter, with multiple skills in blocking, receiving, and possibly rushing,  who can confuse defenses and liberate yardage. If he came out as a tight end, even with the quality of this year’s crop, he’d have little trouble gaining a place on someone's NFL roster.

But that’s a small beginning to his uses. Built small but decently as a 4-3 DE and very well for the 4-3 Sam or the 3-4 SOLB, Barwin was switched to DE his senior year at Cincinnati and promptly made people wonder why he’d been ‘wasted’ as a three-year offensive starter. They quickly found that he was better as a standing rusher than with his hand in the dirt, too. Capable of playing multiple roles, do you wonder which of them would appeal to him most?

"I’m very excited to play a 3-4 OLB because I would be able to not only use what made me successful at DE but what made me successful as TE and that was the ability to play in space."

Is there anything else?

"I’m a dominating, competitive Scrabble player."

He ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at the Combine with a low of 4.50 and a high of 4.68 but wasn’t happy with his times and expects to show better. He put up the bench press 21 times - not that exciting until you notice that he showed off a 40.5" vertical leap, out-jumping many of the cornerbacks and receivers.

His 20-yard shuttle was 4.18 and his 3-cone drill 6.87. He’s fast, he’s quick, and as is often the case, Combine metrics tell only a small part of his tale. (Note – Combine numbers are taken from NFLdraftscout.com)

A few teams may balk at a defender with only one year of tape to measure him by. For Denver’s sake, I hope the other NFL teams do just that. Certainly, with only one year on defense he’s still learning his position. He needs to get stronger and he might not have the greatest lateral movement. He still has a ways to go in learning his new position, and there is some debate as to what the right position (or positions) will be for him.  

Mocking the Draft put it this way:

"Barwin is still learning the intricacies of the position after spending only a season at defensive end. After starting his career at tight end, the coaches wanted Barwin's athleticism on the defense. Because of his inexperience at the position, Barwin needs to improve his technique. He especially needs to do better staying low off the snap. He'll get too high allowing blockers to get under his pads and drive him back. Strength for a defensive end is only average"

But that's why you look at the tape. In Connor's case, the tape shows a defender with a fierce nose for the ball. He’s a natural on defense – attacking the playm smart  and knowledgeable about the offense’s options. He shows good backfield awareness to keep contain on reverses, running plays and bootlegs. His first step is mercury-quick and liquid-fluid with good chase-down speed and the ability to leap and deflect passes. That skill gave him 7 passes broken up to go with 15.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks - in his first year at defender.

Although a little tight in the hips, he’s a sure, powerful tackler and a high-motor player. He never gives up on a play and has that same driven engine on and off the field. He works equally hard in the weight room and the classroom.

Connor is usually intelligent, and it shows in all phases of his game. He has the ability to use everything he learned on the offensive side of the ball to maximize his defensive game. Styg noted that he,

"Engages blockers very well and has the strength to discard, as well as the lower body power to drive them back.  Has effective pass-rush moves and uses his hands well to keep blockers out of his frame.  He was also a special-teams standout, blocking three punts.  A super-intelligent prospect who makes the most of every opportunity, Barwin could be a surprise early pick, even though his fit with Denver's likely scheme isn't surprising at all."

When I was researching Barwin, I found a great deal of contradictory information. That’s not exactly news in the sports world, but then I noticed a pattern. If the review was written earlier in the season or contained information that was obtained there, it contained certain negatives that changed – quickly – as Barwin began to mature into his new position. The issue of letting players get under his pads is one example. Later in the season, he was using his hands better and better to keep them off his body. It’s a single example of a continuing trend. Connor is a very fast learner.

For those who aren’t sold yet, Barwin was a special-teams ace from his freshman year onward. His leaping ability helped him to block 3 punts/kicks. When asked, Connor replied,

"Our special teams coach would just find the weakness and put me over the weakest guy and I was able to beat him and make the block."

I love a player who blames the coaches for his success. For a team that has perennially been weak on special teams, that could be a boon. In my mind’s eye, I’m beginning to see Darrell Reid, Spencer Larsen, Wes Woodyard and Connor Barwin racing downfield after a kick. The four of them converge on the ball-carrier. Then the screen goes black…

The Broncos are working into a win-now mentality, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to mature a player who will contribute greatly on special teams his first year. If that same player is learning quickly, works very hard and contributes a high level of intelligence, motivation and willingness to learn to vicious hits and the ability to come in immediately on goal-line situations, it would be worth it to let the team mature around the man, and the man into the team.

Interviewed for PatriotsDaily.com (it’s rumored that New England would love a shot at this young man, and has 4 draft picks bracketing his probable position), Barwin offered this nugget:

In your first and only year as a defensive end, you tallied double-digit sacks. What can you say to convince NFL teams that you can repeat that type of performance at the next level? 

"I would tell them exactly what you just said. (But,) I think my learning curve is high because of my athleticism, my understanding of the game and just my overall understanding of football."

His sense of humor seems to constantly bubble to the surface (Catch this YouTube video to see more). Barwin is intelligent, hard-working, football smart and durable and he carries a level of versatility that you rarely see.

Once thing is certain – in this year of DE/OLB hybrids, few show half the promise that Connor Barwin is showing. If this is what he looks like after one year on defense, please imagine what he’ll look like with five.

This is your ball-carrier. This is your ball-carrier on

Oh, ouch…

This story was written by multiple request. He's a great player and has a fine story to tell, so I thank styg and boyd for the nod. If you have a player or coach that you feel has an unusual story to tell, please write me at MHRTales@gmail.com. Thanks!

 

 

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