Zaire Barnes, 4.29 (2023 NFL Draft Round Six)
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Brian Costello, New York Post: Congratulations on getting drafted. Did you get any sense from the Jets over the last few months that they were interested in you?
Thank you so much, first and foremost. With the Jets, they brought me in on a 30-vist, and from there on we just had a great relationship based off that. From there on, they just kind of stayed in contact with me and my agent would let me know they were speaking highly of me and just very interested. Just kind of based off that, and also getting a lot of calls from other teams. I had a feeling, but at the same time I could’ve gone anywhere for sure.
Antwan Staley, New York Daily News: Hey Zaire, just talk about what attributes that best describe you as a player.
I’m someone who is going to run to the ball, play with a lot of heart. My love of the game is probably further than most. I’m a guy that doesn’t take any rep off and someone that’s going to be in the playbook every single day and just learn it like the back of my hand. Someone who is great in coverage and also can be stout in the run game. Someone that’s very versatile and takes pride in doing so.
Antwan Staley, New York Daily News: It seems like you played a lot of different positions at Western Michigan on the defensive end. Just talk about how that helped you become the player that you are.
It allowed me to stay mentally focused on (a) different types of level. One aspect is just staying locked in on one position but having to switch my mindset and get re-locked in and have no snaps to really get warmed up and just get thrown into doing it. That’s where I feel like I peak at. I feel like it just helped me on the mental side of things, just seeing the different perspectives. I think it just shows teams that coaches put trust in me to do the job and more than one job. That’s where I feel it helps me.
Andy Vasquez, NJ Advance Media: When you met with the Jets, what were your impressions of the coaching staff and what did they say about how they kind of intend to see you fitting in here?
There’s not really no fit. At the same time, I’m going to let that handle out when I get to camp. I’m just going to let that sort itself out. At the same time, I understand I have to go in everyday and work and earn my own role. The coaching staff, they were great. I remember when I went there it was all gas, no break, and that’s exactly what they were when I went in there. I could just tell everyone was working as a collective unit and everybody was working as a team, that’s what I really loved. It’s a team sport and that’s what they preach over there.
Antwan Staley, New York Daily News: I know you have some experience with special teams, but how much were you able to do it there at Western Michigan? I assume you’re going to play a role there with the Jets on special teams here.
Special teams I take so much pride in. I walked in there as a freshman being a core four (player) and that’s where I learned and (understood) what it took to get on the field. Ever since then I just respected that part of the game to the highest level. Every year, ever since I’ve been at Western I was always on special teams. I take pride in doing it. I didn’t want to come off. That’s fine if I have to go in there and show them. If that’s my role on the team, I’m here to do that.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Zaire, when did you start thinking the NFL could be a realistic possibility?
It’s always been a dream of mine, so every single day I would wake up and go chase that dream. Kind of pretty young, around my sophomore year, I really realized that this was what I wanted to do, of high school. After I tore my ACL in the 2020 season, I had to look myself in the mirror and take my mind and myself to a different level to be where I’m standing at today.
Brian Costello, New York Post: I saw you played safety before you played linebacker. Robert Saleh likes, a lot of times they move safeties to linebacker. What do you think the safety experience kind of helps you with playing linebacker now?
I feel like my safety profile was more of a hitting type safety. I think it helped me in the cover game, for sure. One thing that I had to get used to is just being consistently in the run when I moved down into my linebacker room. Once I got comfortable with doing that, I feel like everything else fell into place with my coverage. I had a lot of experience with that and I just always loved to hit. So, hitting gaps, once I got the hang of that, it was pretty smooth and just reps at that point.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Zaire, you were not invited to the combine, correct?
(follow up) What about other postseason events like all star games and so forth? Were you in any of those?
Yes, I was in the NFLPA game. That was a great experience, learned a lot there, met a lot of great guys there. It was just a great opportunity to showcase my talent.