Thursday, September 29, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

If Alex Barron thought he was thrown into the fire against the Titans last week, then this week he will be tossed into a blazing inferno.

Assuming everything goes as expected and Barron starts at right tackle against the Giants this weekend; he will be facing one of the best defensive ends in the league in New York’s Michael Strahan.
Barron is well aware of the giant task facing him this week and there are a few things that stand out about Strahan to him.

“How good he is at technique and things like that and just the general fact of knowing that he is a veteran in the league and knows all the tricks of the trade,” Barron said. “You just have to focus in on what you need to do and your effort for helping your team. All that other stuff, you really can’t do anything about.”

What Barron can do is take a good, long look at what he will be up against this weekend. Strahan is 12th all-time in sacks with 120.5 and is first among active players in sacks. He also holds the season sack record with 22.5 in 2001.

Coach Mike Martz said because of Strahan’s ability and reputation, there has to be some accountability for him at all times regardless of if the player blocking him is a rookie or not.

“I think always you have to have plan B if you need to help him, and we’re going to do that,” Martz said. “Obviously, we’re going to try and help him a little bit, but he has to play. That’s why he is here. That’s why he is a first-round pick. That’s why he’s starting. We’re not trying to develop him; this isn’t the Boys Club. He has to go play.”

Strahan is a slightly different player this season than he has been in years past. He shed about 20 pounds in the offseason in an attempt to get quicker and stay healthy. Strahan is coming off a pectoral injury that ended his season early last year.

So far, the loss of weight has made Strahan quicker and has had no ill effects according to coach Tom Coughlin.

“He is a little bit lighter,” Coughlin said. “He wanted to play that way, and I certainly have seen him play and perform very well regardless of what weight he is. He is every bit as good of a football player as he has been, and as a matter of fact there are a lot of things happening that are away from Michael. The loss of weight is probably a good thing.”

Strahan has two and a half sacks this season and is no doubt a tough task for a rookie such as Barron.

Fortunately for Barron, though, this won’t be his first appearance in a regular season game. Although he played a little over a quarter against the Titans, he got enough game action to get some much-needed experience before having to deal with Strahan.

Barron was solid in his debut against Tennessee, even picking up and slamming defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch on his second play of the game. For now, Barron is relying on his athletic ability to block while he still attempts to fully grasp the offense, including the many protections and schemes that go along with it.

“I just think he’s a real athletic guy and has a lot of talent,” right guard Adam Timmerman said. “It’s just going to come down to learning technique in a short time. He has a lot of room for improvement. Just coming in last week, he got a little taste, but there is so much to this offense, so many plays, so many different fronts we are going to see, especially this weekend. He has a lot of learning to do and as long as he keeps that attitude, I think he’s going to be fine.”

Barron has spent most of this week working in and out at right tackle and getting coached up by offensive line coaches John Matsko and John Benton. He occasionally turns to All Pro left tackle Orlando Pace for advice, but mainly he has turned his attention to doing his job and doing it well.

“I’m just taking things day by day and trying to learn some new things and get some things down for the game,” Barron said. “There is still some pressure. It’s my first start (and we’re playing) against a good defense.”

After Barron’s solid performance against Tennessee, he instantly received a vote of confidence from Martz. Martz named him the starter and said Barron would hold that job until he does something to lose it.

Martz reiterated that this week, saying that he no longer views Barron as he did only a week or so ago.

“He’s not a rookie anymore,” Martz said. “He’s played. He’s a veteran right now, so I don’t look at it like that. I don’t think that Alex does either. If he did, I wouldn’t play him.”

While Barron’s short time against Tennessee was a good start, it was really only a quiz, the real test comes Sunday.