i really am looking forward to hearing about this kid. Dec 23, 2002 - John Madden, the colorful ABC announcer, will be in town Monday night to call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Pittsburgh Steelers game. He could make Darian Barnes a very happy man if he unleashes just the right ‘Maddenism’ in relation to the Bucs’ rookie fullback. For several reasons, Barnes would be delighted to hear Madden bellow, “He flattened him like a pancake!” or “Somebody just dropped an anvil on that guy!” The first reason, of course, would be that Barnes had either just knocked the stuffing out of a linebacker trying to tackle Michael Pittman or Mike Alstott, or just leveled one of the Steelers’ kickoff return men. “Currently, my favorite has to be the Batman series,” said Barnes, who was hesitant to choose one all-time favorite. “I really like the story lines and the way it’s drawn.” Barnes isn’t just a reader of the new action cartoons, he is also a burgeoning artist/writer of comic books and a fan of Stephen King’s writing. “I like to draw comic books,” said Barnes, who also creates his own storylines and writes the dialogue. “And I also enjoy reading the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.” For fellow King fans, The Dark Tower series may offer a clue as to the type of comics that Barnes creates. For others, the only hint he provided was that they were less like the popular X-Men-type comics and more like the creations of gothic writer Anne Rice. These quirks, and Barnes’ strange eating habits – he sometimes eats quite a few sandwiches prior to practice - may be a few of the reasons that his teammates love to kid around with him. “He’s just crazy,” said defensive end Ellis Wyms, whose locker is right next to Barnes’. “I can’t really explain it. You just have to hang out in this corner and you’ll see what I mean.” Barnes good-naturedly disputes this fact. “I’m not crazy,” he says. ”I’m a little different, but that’s just the way I am. I guess it comes with the intensity that I try to bring.” Barnes’ position coach, Kirby Wilson, offers a more tailback-oriented perspective on the rookie’s personality. “I’ve never met a fullback who was normal,” said Wilson. “So I think he kind of fits the mold they all are from. A little bit wacko, a little bit insane.” We certainly don’t want to project the idea that Barnes is an outcast. Actually, he’s quite a popular figure in the Buccaneers’ locker room, and that’s partially due to the quirkiness of his personality. “The guys have really taken to him,” said Wilson. “It’s partly because of his personality, but most of all it’s because of what he does on the field. As long as he keeps that up, he’ll fit in nicely with them.” Ah, yes, football. Just what has the young fullback, who was claimed off waivers from the New York Giants just before the regular season, done on the field to help endear himself to his teammates? Basically, he’s done whatever the coaching staff has asked, and he’s been given a chance to do it more frequently over the last few games. When he’s been given his chance at fullback, often in a jumbo backfield with Alstott, he has delivered exactly the type of big hits that the team’s coaches and personnel men had seen on film, the evidence that bought him a chance in Tampa Bay. “We saw a guy with some energy and some toughness,” said Wilson of the team’s scouting of Barnes, who arrived in New York in mid-summer as a rare supplemental draft pick. “We saw a guy who has some explosion in the block area and a guy that would really just unload on some people. That really grabbed our attention right away.” Barnes knows that his ability to sacrifice his body to make that big special teams play or deliver that hole-opening hit is the reason he is where he is today. “It’s my willingness to block,” said Barnes. “I try to be very intense, it’s something I got from my father. I’ve always tried to be high-motor and to go full-speed. On the same note, you have to know when to bring it down a little bit.” That high-revving motor is something that many Buccaneers fans have already noticed. When Barnes steps on the field, he’s like an explosive sixth man on a basketball team, a guy who is always fired up and has a contagious effect on the players around him, even if he never touches the ball. “I just think it’s something that’s innate,” said Barnes of his consistently high level of energy. “It’s something that I’ve had ever since I was a child. I’ve always been like this, so I don’t know any other way.” The only thing holding Barnes back so far with the Bucs’ coaching staff is a complete mastery of the playbook. Memorizing a playbook may sound like a simple task, but it is a somewhat daunting task for Barnes, who was more likely to be found on the baseball diamond than the gridiron for much of his childhood. Keep in mind that this is Jon Gruden’s playbook, which is no light read. “It’s hard,” sighed Barnes. “I still have to ‘be on the screws’ as Coach Gruden would say. I still have a long way to go, but I pretty much have it down, as far as knowing what I need to be doing. But as far as being a more productive player in this offense, I need to more detail-oriented. Hopefully the more I play and learn what they expect out of me, the quicker I can become a more productive player.” Barnes’ desire to learn the system and refine his techniques at fullback have not gone unnoticed in practice. After being inactive for eight straight games, Barnes has been kept on the 45-man roster the last two weekends and has taken the majority of the snaps at fullback when Alstott vacates that position. His playing time could continue to increase. “He’s improving gradually,” said Wilson. “It’s a long process for him, but he’s improving enough week to week that we can trust him in situations and he’s done enough where coach (Gruden) is pleased with him and we feel good about putting him out there.” Whether it’s being on the field when the game is on the line or setting up with the scout team during practice, Barnes just wants to help in anyway he can. “It feels great to be able to help the team out,” said Barnes. “This is a really special place to be and anything I can do to help us win, from playing scout team to blocking for the best fullback in the league, it just feels good.” Recently, it has looked pretty good, too, like a well-drawn cartoon.