It doesn’t matter where you put Mark Barron on a football field.
It doesn’t matter if Barron is listed as a safety, a linebacker or a hybrid defensive player.
The undeniable thing about Barron is that he’s a hitter — and the St. Louis Rams are more than happy to have his services.
“I’ve been doing that all my life, that’s one of the things I’m known for,” said Barron, whose career-high 19 tackles Sunday in a 24-6 win over Cleveland were the most by a Rams player since linebacker London Fletcher had 21 in 2001 against Washington. “I love doing it and it comes easy to me.”
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Another thing the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Barron is making look easy is switching from safety and occasional time at outside linebacker to working exclusively at weak side linebacker. He’s not just filling the gap left by injured linebacker Alec Ogletree, who was on his way to a career year before suffering a broken fibula Dec. 4.
In my mind I’m still playing safety, I’m just lining up in a different place. I’m just playing football.
Rams linebacker Mark Barron
There has been no drop-off in production and Barron is making opposing offenses wish they had not ventured into his area. Against the Browns he had 19 tackles (16 solos), two forced fumbles, two tackles for a loss and a quarterback hit.
“It’s not that much different, really,” Barron said of the switch. “In my mind I’m still playing safety, I’m just lining up in a different place. I’m just playing football.”
Barron, 26, also was on the field for all 75 defensive snaps. Since replacing Ogletree in Game 5, he has moved up to third third on the team with 44 tackles, including 35 solo stops.
“He’s filled in nicely,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “I think (Rams defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams) and his staff have done a good job. We miss Alec, but we’ve adjusted with Mark. We’ve adjusted with (linebacker) Akeem (Ayers). We’re getting good pressure. Mark’s just going to continue to get better.”
Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins said the move has been great for Barron and the defense.
“I think that’s a great spot for Mark. Hard-nosed hitter,” Jenkins said. “Loves to be around the ball. High energy. He likes to make contact with people.”
We had a first-round grade and a first-round talent that was available. We didn’t spend too much time trying to figure out why they wanted to move him, but we felt like he fit into our defense.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher on the trade for Mark Barron
While he played linebacker at St. Paul’s Episcopal High in Mobile, Ala., he also was a standout running back who helped his team win a Class 5A state championship. He later was a two-time All-American safety at Alabama that helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship.
He also was one of four Alabama players chosen in the first round of the 2012 draft.
Barron did not become a full-time defensive player until his freshman year at Alabama, but also had offers from other schools that wanted him on offense.
“I did, that’s actually how I decided what college I wanted to go to,” Barron said. “Some colleges wanted me to play running back and receiver. Once I decided I wanted to play safety, that’s when I decided to o to Alabama.”
There was something about hitting and initiating contact that kept pushing Barron to the defensive side.
“I’ve always been known for being able to hit hard and all that stuff, since I was a kid,” he said. “I’ve been kind of the same size since I was in high school and a lot of people feel this is the perfect safety size, so a lot of people told me I was a natural-born safety.
“That’s really how that came about.”
Barron was drafted by Tampa Bay with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Rams traded for him during the 2014 season, sending a fourth and sixth round pick in the 2015 draft to the Bucs.
What did the Rams see in him to pull the trigger on the trade?
“We had a first-round grade and a first-round talent that was available,” Fisher said. “We didn’t spend too much time trying to figure out why they wanted to move him, but we felt like he fit into our defense. Value wise, it just made too much sense to go ahead and get him.”
Fisher said moving Barron closer to the line of scrimmage hasn’t resulted in a drop in production.
“He’s not always in there. We move him around,” Fisher said. “We’re blitzing him and he’s playing coverage and things like that. But often times when he’s behind the ball, yes he holds up. He understands his run responsibilities and his gap fits.”
The Rams (3-3) play host to the San Francisco 49ers at noon Sunday looking to move to 3-0 in the NFC West. Are the Rams beginning to think of themselves as playoff contenders?
Barron said anyone asking that question is way behind the curve.
“In our minds, we’ve always been that since the first game,” he said. “Even the games that we lost, that never went away. We always felt like we were that team. Hopefully that’s being felt around the league and we’re going to keep it going.
“It’s most definitely a victory that we want.”