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Barron Thriving in New Role

Posted Oct 7, 2013

Mark Barron is getting a chance to use his full range of talents, which is bringing out the best in the second-year safety and the Buccaneers’ defense as a whole

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • S Mark Barron is rapidly become an indispensible player in the Bucs' defense thanks to the variety of jobs he can handle
  • Barron leads the team with 30 tackles and has also already recorded a sack and an interception
  • Secondary-Safeties Coach Jeff Hafley says Barron's confidence is growing rapidly and that is driving his progress as a player
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers adjusted their safety corps a bit during the bye week, releasing third-year man Ahmad Black and picking up former Miami Dolphin Kelcie McCrayoff waivers.  It remains to be seen how that change will affect the team’s lineup in the secondary, but one thing is certain: Mark Barron’s role isn’t changing.

Barron, the second-year safety who came aboard as the seventh-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, suffered a hamstring strain in the Bucs’ pre-bye week game against Arizona.  The team is cautiously confident that the extra rest will be enough for Barron to recover in time for its Week Six game against Philadelphia, and that’s important because the former Alabama star is rapidly becoming an indispensible figure in the Bucs’ defense.

Barron’s role is certainly unique, or at least uniquely suited to his talents.  While he teams with All-Pro Dashon Goldson to patrol the back end of the secondary, he also spends a good amount of time closer to the line of scrimmage, working linebacker territory and all that entails.  Depending on the call, he may be rushing the passer, covering a tight end who releases from the line of scrimmage or filling a gap in run support.  Barron’s size, speed, instincts and athleticism allow him to be a potential playmaker in all of those roles.

“Especially in this day and age when you’ve got the tight ends that are like receivers and you’ve got teams going four-wide or you have a running back that all of a sudden is split out – he helps you with those matchups,” said Jeff Hafley, the Buccaneers’ secondary-safeties coach.  “You can blitz him like a linebacker, you can put him on a tight end who’s like a receiver or you can put him on a wideout.  Or you can just keep him back at safety.  It’s a good guy to have, and a good versatility to have.”

Barron had a fine rookie season, though he was overshadowed to some extent by two other Buccaneer newcomers who had flashier debuts.  Running back Doug Martin, Tampa Bay’s second first-round pick, racked up a combined 1,926 rushing and receiving yards, one of the best debut seasons ever by an NFL back.  Linebacker Lavonte David was a serious Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, trailing only Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt in tackles for loss.  Meanwhile, Barron contributed 89 tackles, four tackles for loss, one interception and 10 passes defensed, but that only hinted at the sort of production he was capable of.

- S Mark Barron is equally comfortable covering running backs and rushing the passer

The arrival of Goldson has helped make that potential more obvious.  Through just four games this season, Barron has already racked up a team-high 30 tackles plus, one sack, two quarterback hits, and interception and two passes defensed.  Moreover, he has thrived in his new role and given the Buccaneers’ defense many more alignment options.

“His progress has been huge, and it’s kind of what we expected,” said Hafley.  “From the time the [2012] season ended, he’s been driven and focused.  You can see it in his eyes, you can see it in the meeting room, and he’s playing confident right now.  He’s playing physical, he’s been playing confident, he’s covering well and he’s really been a leader back there.  He’s got a lot on his plate mentally and he’s done an awesome job with it.  Playing down in the box, playing deep, covering backs, covering receivers…and the thing is, there’s still room for improvement, which is really exciting.  He’s playing good, and he knows he’ll be playing better.”

Martin remains the Bucs’ offensive workhorse and is on pace for a whopping 400 carries.  David has been as impactful as ever, and his 2.5 sacks indicate that he’s added another element to his all-around game.  But it’s Barron who is taking the biggest step forward in his second year, and that combined with his ability to thrive in so many different roles has been a big part of the Bucs’ defensive improvement in 2013.

“He is definitely as improved as any of the guys that we have,” said Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan.  “His second time around, his confidence level is such that, he knows our defense so he’s not swimming as far as assignments, and he’s had enough success in NFL games that he knows he can just line up and he can play.  He can cover guys, he can run support.  He knows he can play, and he’s enjoying it.”
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers