Mark Barron has proven he knows how to take advantage of an opportunity.
Barron, who the Steelers signed to a two-year contract on Tuesday, began his NFL career as a safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
A college defensive back at Alabama, he figured that is where his NFL career would take him as well.
Less than three years into his career, midway through the 2014 season, he was traded to the Rams. He was still used as a safety at the onset, but that would eventually change.
Early in the 2015 season, in just Week 4, linebacker Alec Ogletree fractured his leg. The Rams needed to plug the hole in game, and moved Barron, who was mainly playing in package defenses, to Ogletree’s ‘Will’ linebacker position.
“They didn’t approach me about it. It happened in game,” said Barron. “At the time I was the guy they used in certain packages. I wasn’t the starting safety at the time. They wanted me on the field more. When Alec went down they wanted me on the field more and that slot opened. That was a way to put me on the field more.
“They just told me to go out there and play football. I have been playing linebacker ever since. It wasn’t a thing that was talked about or discussed, or anything like that. They just threw me out there and told me to go.”
And ‘go’ is exactly what he did. Barron led the Rams in tackles that season and linebacker became his new spot.
At 6-2, 230, Barron is on the smaller side for a linebacker, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in toughness and intelligence.
“If a guy is going to be a smaller linebacker, he has to be tough, he has to be physical, he has to be strong,” said Barron. “He also has to be smart and understand you are a little undersized and you have to do some things differently in how you attack playing the run. For the most part you have to be a pretty tough guy, you have to be strong, you have to know football.”
Barron said his size doesn’t mean teams try to test him against the run, that he feels they respect his play enough not to. And when they do run, he knows how to use his size to his advantage.
“If you are a smaller guy and you have a 300-pound lineman coming at you, you have to use your leverage or your speed,” said Barron. “You are probably not going to overpower them. If you catch them off balance you might overpower them, but you have to know yourself. You have to have an understanding of yourself, your game and how to make things work for you.”
Barron said his role with the Steelers will be at linebacker as well, and he expects to be an every down player for the black and gold.
“I don’t think I will be coming off the field,” said Barron. “I am playing linebacker. As far as what all they will ask me to do, I am not sure. I am a versatile guy. I feel like I can do whatever is needed. I am here to do whatever is needed to help this team win.”
Barron said he was attracted to the Steelers in free agency because of all he has heard about Coach Mike Tomlin and the respect he has for him.
“Just the opportunity to play for him, the things I heard about him, I thought it might be a good fit for me,” said Barron. “Just the way he goes about things. How straight up and down he is about his work. And the way he handles his payers and communicates with them. I am a similar type of person. I am straight up and down. I like things to be on the table and clear cut. I operate in that fashion. To work for somebody and play for somebody who operates in the same fashion as me, I thought that would be a good fit for me.”
His stats: Barron started 12 games for the Rams in 2018, missing four with an ankle injury. He finished the season with 60 tackles, 43 of them solo stops, and three tackles for a loss. He also had a sack, a forced fumble, a quarterback hit and recorded a safety.
For his career Barron has played in 104 games, starting 93, with 624 tackles, 44 for a loss, nine sacks, eight interceptions and 17 quarterback hits. He also has five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
The Steeler have added free agent LB Mark Barron