Once the college football post season is over, it is quickly time to move on to the all-star games. If your name is not Joe Burrow or Chase Young or any of the elite top 20 NFL draft picks, these games are a chance to show off your skills before NFL coaches and scouts.
UCLA linebacker Krys Barnes is attempting to do just that this week at the Collegiate Bowl, which is put on by the NFL Players Association. Ironically enough, the week of workouts for Saturday night’s game is taking place in a stadium he is so familiar with; the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The game has two rosters, the American and the National. Former NFL coaches Hue Jackson and Marvin Lewis are the head coaches. The list of assistant coaches working with the players throughout the week is a who’s who of NFL bluebloods; Carnell Lake, Ricky Manning Jr., Kevin Mawae, Rod Woodson, Santana Moss, and Dennis Thurman are among the names on the coaching staffs.
If you are among the very elite of college football, you likely don’t need one of these post season games. Pro days at the school, one-on-one workout for teams, and the NFL Combine will be good enough. If you are at a tier or two below that, you are going to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. And then just below that comes the players that get invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl or the Shrine Bowl in Florida. Those players need that extra push on the field, and in meetings, to get that next level push.
The rosters for the Collegiate Bowl are chock full of players from schools as big as UCLA, USC, Stanford, Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia, and Ole Miss. There are also many schools as small as University of San Diego, UT-Chattanooga, and Sam Houston State. They are looking to make their impact for the later rounds of the draft or even an invitation to an NFL free agent camp.
That is where we get to Barnes. He and UCLA kicker J.J. Molson are here doing what they can do to make that impression. Running back Josh Kelley was originally on the Collegiate Bowl list. But he changed course when he got an invitation to next week’s Senior Bowl.
Barnes did the work at UCLA. He was a four-star recruit for Jim Mora out of Bakersfield, CA. He was rated as one of the top inside linebackers in the country in that class. Barnes played in 33 games over his last three years in Westwood. In 2019, the Bruins struggled to a 4-8 record. Still, Barnes led a veteran linebacking group with 72 tackles, four sacks, and three interceptions. His numbers were slightly higher in his junior season. He was having to make up for the loss of teammate Josh Woods who was out for the season with an injury.
For his efforts, Barnes was All Pac 12 Honorable Mention in 2019. Because of UCLA’s lack of success over the last two years, the Bruins do not have many players getting the post-season accolades. So the Honorable Mention status is not insignificant.
We have spoken to several scouts this week. Of course none of whom will go on the record. They tell us Barnes lacks the natural athletic speed that many linebackers have. But, and this is a significant but, they say his natural intuition at the position and his hard work are making up for the lack of natural athletic traits.
Barnes says that is what he is trying to highlight for the scouts this week. “I want to show my intellectual side, my football IQ. I take a lot of pride in studying the playbooks. When we first got them, I tried to make sure I had it down by the time I came out here. I want to improve each and every day here and I don’t want there to be any inconsistency in my game. I feel like I have done that.”
Every NFL team, (and most Canadian Football League teams), are represented at the workouts this week. They are watching the position drills, the scrimmages, and they are getting time to talk with the players. Barnes was getting plenty of “atta boy” comments from the National Team staff during position drills Thursday. He says he is trying to show that he can fit into any role they need from a linebacker. “The thing I was most excited about coming out to here to show was that I am instinctual. I am an all-around linebacker. I can cover. I’m not just a first or second down backer. I can be in on third down and cover guys; tight ends, running backs, whatever it may be.”
The help he is getting from the veritable all-pro staff has him enthusiastic about his workouts also. “I have gotten great feedback. We are around hall of fame type coaches, so you are getting knowledge every day. I’m trying to take the little nuggets they give us with advice and implement them into my game.”
Being in this environment with various personnel from the NFL, it is clear there is tremendous skepticism about the UCLA program right now. They talk about the record, the winnable games that were lost, the diminishing crowds at the Rose Bowl, and the lack of first or second round draft talent coming out of the school the last couple of years.
The players know though, that giving the right, mature answers all week is a big part of the personality profile. Barnes backs up what he got out of his time at UCLA. “I learned a lot from Coach (Don) Pellum in terms of increasing my football IQ. I have a great knowledge of fronts. I have a great knowledge of the little tools for the back end. So, coming here, even though it is a different lingo, you are able to come here and play a little faster.”
After years of having the same teammates and knowing where everyone was going to be on any given play, it is a big change going through these potentially life-changing times with people you have never played with. “Coming out here and playing with a new group, you have to instantly trust them because you’ve only got a week. We have grown that bond. I have been going around the hotel and saying ‘what’s up’ to them and see where they are from and learn their background. That kind of goes into being able to trust them on the field. It’s been a good week. I’ve made some new friends.”
Barnes, and all 112 of the players gathered in Pasadena this are now hoping to get to see some of those new friends at NFL training camps in the Spring.