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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State’s Harlon Barnett likes what he sees from the cornerbacks

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“I bleed green and white,” Barnett said. “Anybody that knows me, knows that. I was gone two years and now I’m back and excited to be back.”

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Harlon Barnett, cornerbacks coach for the Michigan State Spartans, addressed the media via Zoom call today and gave some insights into how some of the players in the defensive backs room are shaping up heading into the season.

Barnett, who played at MSU for head coach George Perles in the mid-to-late 1980s, and went on to play in the NFL, enters his second stint on the coaching staff for the Spartans. This time under Mel Tucker.

Barnett, of course, was a long time assistant coach under Mark Dantonio from 2007 through the 2017 season. He originally served as defensive backs coach before being promoted to associate head coach, and splitting defensive coordinator duties with Mike Tressel, while still coaching the secondary. Barnett then left for Florida State for two seasons before finding his way back to East Lansing in 2020.

Barnett talked about several of the individual defensive backs, and likes what he sees out of the group from a skillset perspective. He also likes the leadership he’s seen with some of the players.

“A guy like Tre Person or Dom Long — guys (who) were here with me for one year prior to me leaving — you could see the maturity in their games, them understanding the game itself, and their communication and their leadership,” Barnett said. “You see things that you hope to see (from them) entering their fourth year or whatever (it may be).”

Another dynamic that is important is Barnett’s strong relationship with Tressel. As mentioned, those two were formerly co-defensive coordinators together for MSU. Now, the long-time coaches are working together with the secondary once again. Barnett is focusing on cornerbacks and Tressel is focusing on safeties, but they’re communicating as a whole defensive backfield.

When asked about their bond and how things are with them after a two-year hiatus, Barnett said the pals haven’t missed a beat.

“It feels great (to be reunited), Mike’s like a brother,” Barnett said. “We were together for so long, he and I, and even Pat (Narduzzi) back in those days. We’re connected for life, we’re brothers, as long as we’ve been together. He and I mesh well, no issues. We just work well together. We communicate, and our guys communicate. We’re just trying to get the best out of everybody that we coach, and win football games.”

Other notes:

On Shakur Brown and cornerback depth:

“You always see Shak taking the next step and he’s a really good football player,” Barnett said. “I constantly talk about guys being complete corners, not (just) cover corners, so they can run, cover, tackle, that’s what we’re looking for. Dominique Long is a guy that’s vying for a spot, (along with) Kalon Gervin, Chris Jackson, Julian Barnett (and) Davion Williams. I think I pretty much covered everybody, but they’re all doing a good job trying to apply the techniques and coaching we’re giving them and getting better every day.

“It’s a good group. I’m fortunate to work with these guys and really know most of them, really all of them. Even though I left, I knew all of the guys and really helped bring most of them here. I’m looking forward to getting out on the field and playing, and seeing how they do in a real game.”

On true freshman Angelo Grose:

“I was trying to keep (him) a secret, but since you’re going to say that, he is a football player,” Barnett said when asked about Grose. “He’s a really good football player. I like him a lot. He’s gonna do a lot of great things here at Michigan State.”

On comparing this year’s defense to any of the past defenses under Dantonio and what he sees in the young pieces:

“I haven’t even thought about that, but it might be the early stages of the 2009 through 2011 classes, you know Denicos Allen, Darqueze Dennard, Trae Waynes, that group of guys at the early stage — maybe at the ‘09 stage if I had to compare it,” Barnett said when asked to compare this year’s defense to previous seasons. “Then you start adding pieces to it and taking it from there.”

“There’s some talent here. I was involved with recruiting Chris Jackson, Kalon (Gervin), Davion (Williams), Xavier Henderson and Michael Dowell — that was the signing class of DBs the year I left. And I met Julian (Barnett) by recruiting Davion at Bellville, so I had already known Julian as well. They are a talented group, and we’re working hard to get back to where we’ve been and where we expect to be.

On what has changed since he left and what is the same:

“I bleed green and white,” Barnett said. “Anybody that knows me, knows that. I was gone two years and now I’m back and excited to be back.”

“What you got to keep in mind is that both Coach Dantonio and Coach Tucker basically fall from the (Nick) Saban tree,” Barnett said. “Nick and I go back to 1995, when I came here as a true freshman and he was 37-years-old. So, we all speak ‘Saban-ese,’ if you want to say it that way. There’s certain things that are gonna happen and you’re gonna do based on being under a guy like him, which is attention to detail, doing all the little things right and just coaching everybody through the process. Don’t look at the scoreboard. All those same things still apply, just in our own little ways how we do it. It’s going to be a very disciplined program, and it’s going to be tough-nosed, hard-nosed, getting after it. That’s what I love about it.”

On Kalon Gervin:

“I see a player with really, really good technique,” Barnett said. “He can run, that’s what we liked about him when recruiting him here. He’s fast — you got to be able to run out there on the edge playing corner — and he has confidence. You gotta be confident to play out there and I feel like I’m a person who tries to coach confidence in secondary guys. He plays really good technique, he’s smart, he can run and he’s a willing tackler. I think he’s doing a really good job for us right now and will only continue to get better and better and better.”

On using development and NFL drafted defensive backs as a selling point for recruiting:

“We’ve had a history of coaching guys up and helping them get better — along with their natural talents, it wasn’t all us, we’re not gonna take full credit,” Barnett said. “We can continue point back to that and show people that. Nothing like ‘proof in the pudding.’ In today’s world, you can Google everything and pull it right up and see what our guys have done and how successful they’ve been. It’s just easy and it’s good. You like to be able to show people, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve done, this is what our guys have done.’ Then you can go contact those guys yourself and ask questions about Michigan State, about me, about Coach Tressel, whomever, and get a good feel for who we really are.”

On Julian Barnett’s transition back to cornerback:

“Julian, he was recruited here as a corner, and from my understanding, last year they moved him over to receiver in camp, maybe out of need, or what have you,” Barnett said. “But he’s all corner right now, pretty much, and he’s doing a good job for us. He’s got a little rust on him he’s shaking off, and it’s shaking off. He’s looking better and better each day. He’s a natural, big, corner — strong, can run, great ball skills and really good football player. He’s really coming along these last few days as well.”

On a guy that has surprised him somewhat thus far in camp:

“I think Chris Jackson, because y’all haven’t seen Chris play much,” Barnett said. “Of course, I recruited him so I knew what he was and what he could do. He’s really, really doing a good job out there competing with those other guys that were already mentioned. We have great competition in the room and great camaraderie in the room because that’s what we promote. Not only are they competing, but they’re helping each other out because we’re gonna need everybody. Chris is doing a good job.”

On if the defensive backs are a step ahead of the rest of the team given prior reps from that group:

“I would like to think that, but not necessarily because it’s a new scheme,” Barnett said. “Those guys haven’t really been coached by me. Shakur (Brown) Dom (Long) probably more than anybody else (have been coached by me). I recruited those other guys, but they weren’t coached by me. They didn’t necessarily know my coaching style. I would like to say that, but not really, I think we’re all on an even playing field.”