When he got to Colorado a year ago, Robert Barnes was eager to play alongside star linebacker Nate Landman and learn from the leader of the Buffaloes’ defense.
Now that Landman has graduated, Barnes is eager to take on a bigger role and lead the Buffs from the middle of the defense.
“Nate did a great job of implementing what a Colorado linebacker was, especially for me not knowing anything about the tradition or the culture,” said Barnes, a transfer from Oklahoma in January of 2021. “Just by being with him in that room for a year and being able to build off his leadership and knowing where we want to set the standard for this room in the future, I think helped a lot.”
A 6-foot-2, 230-pound inside linebacker, Barnes is a sixth-year senior who is preparing for his second season at CU.
In four years at Oklahoma, he played safety and linebacker. He was a starter for 10 of the 34 games he played with the Sooners, compiling 78 tackles, one tackle for loss, and two interceptions.
Last season with the Buffs, he played in 11 games, with three starts late in the year after Landman went down with a shoulder injury. Barnes finished with 44 tackles, three tackles for loss and an interception.
It was a solid season for Barnes, but he and linebackers coach Mark Smith know there is potential to get better.
“What I’m really proud of Robert about is just the physical part of his game has just come free,” Smith said last month. “That’s one of the things I challenged him with as the season went on. Robert was really good at coverage and doing things there, and he fit the runs well. But, I challenged him – he’s a big, strong man – to be more physical in the run game and he accepted that challenge.
“He’s a very coachable player. When you challenge Robert with something, he’s going to absolutely go out and try to get that done.”
Head coach Karl Dorrell asked all of the players to focus on two or three areas of improvement during the spring. Barnes said he worked mainly on fundamentals, including formation recognition and tackling.
“I think it went very well,” Barnes said of his spring. “I think I improved on all the things I needed to improve on from last fall. I had some focal points that were my points of emphasis going into the spring. I got those accomplished and I think that there’s always room for improvement and I’m gonna keep improving on those things. But, I think it was a very positive spring for me for sure.”
Barnes added that he appreciated Dorrell’s instruction to limit the focus to a few items during the spring.
“I always compartmentalize my work,” he said. “I take one thing each day and kind of focus on that. I love playing for a coach that shares that same mindset. You can just focus on one thing and you might mess up in another category, but that’s another thing for tomorrow to work on. So it just allows you to keep moving forward and keep progressing.”
CU needs Barnes to progress because, without Landman, the Buffs have big shoes to fill.
Barnes and fellow senior Quinn Perry are veterans with several starts under their belts. The Buffs got a key addition recently when Josh Chandler-Semedo, the leading tackler at West Virginia last year, announced his intention to transfer to CU.
The rest of the group is very inexperienced. Fourth-year sophomore Marvin Ham II (141 career snaps) is the only other inside linebacker with experience at CU. Junior college transfer Isaac Hurtado, redshirt freshman Mister Williams and true freshmen Eoghan Kerry and Aubrey Smith are also vying for playing time.
“I think those guys are coming along well,” Barnes said. “Me and Quinn have played enough games to kind of show them the ropes. I think just getting the foundation set this spring (is key), being able to come back in the summertime and work on the things we all need to work on. Then you can just go into fall full steam ahead.”
Heading into his final season of college football, Barnes is eager to go full steam ahead and make it his best season.
“I’ve always had a pretty good amount of focus because I’ve always had lofty goals, but I think getting my feet wet last year helped a lot and I definitely know what’s in store this season.
“You’ve just gotta attack each day, worry about the things you can control, get better and let God do the rest.”