The last time Tampa Bay and St. Louis squared off, Mark Barron was beginning his third year as the Bucs’ starting strong safety.
Fifteen months later, Tampa Bay’s former first-round draft pick will be on the opposite sideline wearing Rams gold and blue and starting at a different position. A trade following Week 8’s loss to Minnesota last year sent Barron to St. Louis for a pair of draft picks. The seventh overall pick in 2012 wasn’t fitting in well to head coach Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme and the Bucs deemed him expendable after starting all 37 games he appeared in with Tampa Bay.
Barron’s worked his way into the Rams’ system primarily as a backup since arriving in St. Louis and saw his role increase when outside linebacker Alec Ogletree was lost for the season in early October. Known mostly for his hard hitting and physicality, head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams moved Barron closer to the line as their weak safety/weakside linebacker following the loss of Ogletree.
Barron’s started the past nine games and is now leading the Rams with 116 tackles. His 19-tackle performance in Week 7 against Cleveland marked a career high and the most by any Ram in a single game since 2001.
“We packaged Mark up after the trade and got him on the field in different packages, and then when we lost Alec [Ogletree], we put him in the lineup and he’s done a great job,” Fisher said Tuesday during his conference call with the Tampa Bay media. “He loves playing around the line of scrimmage. If you look at [Deone] Bucannon in Arizona and what Mark’s doing behind the ball on early downs, I think that’s where we’re going.
“He takes on linemen and shocks and sheds, but still has that ability, as you guys know, to cover tight ends and backs. He’s an outstanding blitzer, he knocks balls loose as the safety in our kickoff cover team. He’s just playing really good ball for us. It was a great deal for us and we have every intention of getting him back.”
Barron is playing out the final season on his four-year rookie contract. The Rams declined to pick up his fifth-year option this spring and Barron will enter the offseason an unrestricted free agent.