The Buffalo Bills claimed T.J. Barnes off of waivers after he was released by the New York Jets towards the end of the season. Just five days later, the 6’6” 359-pound defensive lineman was in full uniform and actually started the game against the Houston Texans. He played just over 50 defensive snaps to finish out the last four games of the season, but the former Georgia Tech standout has a good chance to earn a spot on the 2016 Bills’ roster, given his familiarity with head coach Rex Ryan’s defensive system.
Barnes played in 53 games during his collegiate career with the Yellow Jackets and earned the starting job in his senior year. He recorded 75 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and broke up four passes.
T.J. Barnes isn’t just a big body—he’s quick and can generate some pressure as well as work down the line of scrimmage. Against Clemson, he’s able to fight his way through the offensive line, forcing the speedy quarterback Tajh Boyd out of the pocket, forcing a throwaway.
T.J. was kind enough to chat with me about joining the Bills, his thoughts on Rex Ryan, as well as what he likes to do away from football.
You were signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jets in 2013, so you’re familiar with Rex Ryan and his defense. What are your thoughts on Rex as a person and as a coach?
Rex is a great coach, man, there aren’t enough words in the dictionary to explain how good of a guy he is. Everywhere you go players rave about him, he really is a players’ coach. He’s an enthusiastic guy and he’s fun to be around, but he’s really smart and gets the best out of his guys.
The Bills signed you on December 1st and on December 5th you were suited up to play against the Texans. At your size, I think it’s safe to say that most people assumed you’d be playing as a nose tackle, but you actually played more of a three-technique. What would you say your role is on the Bills’ defensive line, knowing that they’re moving to more of a traditional 3-4 front?
As far as a specific role, I don’t want to limit myself to anything. I want to learn and grow, so I don’t like to label myself into one spot. I’m a defensive lineman and I’ll play my best wherever the coaches put me.
In your opinion, what’s your biggest strength as a player?
I think my best asset is my knowledge of the game. I watch a lot of film and try to prepare myself enough to know what’s coming at me. My coaches always taught me to learn the entire defense, so I’m not just watching the offensive line and defensive line—I’m looking at what the linebackers are doing, what the corners, the safeties are doing. That way I can understand the “why” behind the scheme and how it all ties together, so I’d definitely say my preparation and knowledge is my biggest strength.
What about weaknesses? What do you hope to work on leading into training camp for the 2016 season?
Honestly, just not being nervous. You want to be confident every time you get on the field, but that’ll come with experience once the game starts slowing down more.
Is there a player that you like to model your game after, maybe a favorite player you had growing up?
To be honest, I didn’t get into football until I was older so I really tried to model my game after the guys around me, like Damon Harrison. Now, I like to study a lot of great players but mostly John Henderson and Haloti Ngata.
I see you graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Business Management, so congratulations on that. What are your plans for after football, or even some things you do now when your away from the game?
I’m actually working on starting my own charity to help people in need. We’re not going to focus on just one thing, but I want to help people after seeing some of the things I’ve witnessed or went through on a personal level. So it can be anything from homelessness to breast cancer to testicular cancer, I just want to give back and help people that need it.
Away from football, I’m married so I spend a lot of time with my wife. She coaches and plays in rec softball and volleyball leagues, so I like spending time with her doing that. Other than that, really just playing video games and relaxing.
You were born in Alabama, went to school at Georgia Tech and currently live in Atlanta. What was your first reaction when you got to Buffalo in the cold of December?
Ha, man I haven’t seen that much snow since my rookie year. But it was really an eye opener, my wife had to buy a whole new winter coat, I had to get all new stuff. It really is a culture shock, but I started getting used to it.
There’s 15 minutes before you’re going out onto the field. What music are you listening to to get yourself pumped up for the game?
Big K.R.I.T., Future and then of course Phil Collins—gotta have that “In The Air Tonight” before every game.
Any words for the fans before I let you go?
Just want to say thanks for the warm welcome, I hear Bills fans are some of the best in the league and I’m just looking forward to showing what I can do.
Make sure to give T.J. a follow on Twitter @ILLUMANINETY