However, injuries to a plethora of defensive backs left the door open for the ex-Terp to play in the final seven games of 2010, including a pair of starts against Jacksonville and New York.
Finally given the opportunity to shine, Barnes didn't disappoint.
A cornerback by trade, Barnes lined up at strong safety for much of the final two contests and arguably distinguished himself more than any other player during Mike Shanahan's three week evaluation process. He intercepted Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard in overtime in week 16, setting Graham Gano's game-winning field goal and was the most aggressive defender on the field in the season finale against New York.
"I play behind three great corners [with] first-round pedigrees," Barnes told me after the Giants game. "So a young guy like me came in last year; [it wasn't that they] didn't really expect much from me, I think it was more so they wanted to give me time to develop and fortunately they saw an opportunity to slide me in there at safety and I made the most of it."
Barnes notched four tackles and broke up three passes against the Giants, leaving everyone believing he will be back to play a role next season. It's difficult for a corner to fill in at safety on the fly, but he did just that thanks to a work ethic that is widely praised in the locker room. But for Barnes, it's simply business as usual.
"At the end of the day it's football so I mean regardless of me playing corner or safety you have got to go out there and do what your assignment is and fortunately in the offseason I made an effort to learn as much of the defense as possible so making the transition to safety wasn't that hard," he said.
He certainly grew more comfortable because as the repetitions built up, so did his confidence.
"There was a couple plays [earlier in the season] where I could have got a piece of the tackle but I didn't," said Barnes. "Coach [Haslett] pointed it out during meetings [before the Giants game] and every time I had a chance I threw my body in there."
Against the Giants, Barnes found himself staring directly at an oncoming Eli Manning. Manning was scrambling out of the pocket in an effort to reach the the first down marker and for Barnes, it was a prime chance to once again show the world his hitstick ability.
However, the NFL's emphasis on limiting defender contact with the quarterback caused him to think twice before lowering his helmet and unleashing an all-out, bone jarring tackle. The half second of indecision was enough to ruin a highlight reel hit. Barnes didn't induce a Jahvid Best-like upheaval of Manning's insides, but he did make the stop and get a decent lick on the quarterback.
"I was expecting him to slide, that's why I didn't hit him as hard as I probably could have, but it was good," he said with a grin after the game. "I probably could have got a bigger hit, but I got him down."
Barnes is undoubtedly someone who knows a few things about big hits. He wrecked the aforementioned Best while the two were in college, and then fractured his shoulder while making a tackle against Wake Forest later that season. Fittingly, the receiver fumbled the ball.
Barnes has never been afraid to be physical so long as he can make an impact. "He's not permanently hurt, so I'm fine with that," he told the Washington Post following his shot on Best. "Had he died or something, I'd have felt bad, but he'll probably be playing next week."
After spending most of his time in the NFL on the pine his first two seasons, Barnes is a hungry player ready to prove he belongs in the Redskins' long-term plans. He proved it with a strong showing down the stretch and it became apparent he takes pride in being a versatile player who can succeed in every aspect of the game. With the possible departure of Carlos Rogers and with Washington looking to perhaps replace Kareem Moore at free safety, the future is bright for Kevin Barnes in the Redskin secondary.