By Bill Coats
Sunday, Sep. 24 2006

Florida State tailback Leon Washington thought he was alone as he sprinted
toward the end zone two Octobers ago against Syracuse. Then he glanced to his
side and saw teammate Alex Barron cruising stride for stride with him.

"I'm telling you, you could line him up at running back," an incredulous
Washington told reporters later.

A 6-foot-7, 315-pound running back would be quite a site. Anyway, the Rams
prefer to keep Barron at right tackle, where he has been a starter since the
fourth game of his rookie season last year.

For the second half of Sunday's game in San Francisco and during most of this
past week in practice, Barron and right guard Adam Timmerman were the only
familiar faces on a patched-together offensive line.

At center, Richie Incognito has replaced Andy McCollum, who suffered a
season-ending knee injury in the opener, with newcomer Adam Goldberg at left
guard and first-year Ram Todd Steussie at left tackle in place of Orlando Pace,
who suffered a concussion late in the second period vs. the *****.

Barron called his elder-statesman status "kind of funny. This time last year, I
was just chilling on the sidelines, just hanging, watching the team."

The team's first-round draft pick, Barron missed 19 days of training camp
before signing a five-year, $9.2 million deal. He was on the inactive list for
the first two games while he hustled to gain at least a minimal understanding
of the offense. Barron suited up for the third game, Sept. 25 vs. Tennessee,
and with starter Blaine Saipaia struggling, was tossed into the fray late in
the third quarter. On his first NFL snap, Barron flattened Titans defensive end
Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Barron started 11 of the final 13 games; he missed two with a thumb injury that
required surgery. The results generally were positive, but hardly overwhelming.

"He got into the system kind of under fire," said offensive line coach Paul
Boudreau, a member of new coach Scott Linehan's staff. "He really didn't
understand the whole picture."

Two games into his second season, "I'm feeling a little bit more comfortable,"
Barron reported.

"He's doing the things you want to improve on from your first year to your
second," Linehan said. "He's a very good pass protector, and his run-blocking
is better. He's progressing very well."

Barron's athleticism belies his position -- he's no "hog." At Florida State's
pro day, Barron impressed the scouts with his performance, which included a
4.82-second 40 and a 38-inch vertical leap. "We kind of looked at each other
and went, 'OK, we've seen enough,'" Boudreau said. "I'm telling you, he's a

Alex, 23, and his siblings, Zachary, 21, and Lasaundra, 17, were raised in tiny
Orangeburg, S.C., by Alex Sr. and Lucinda Brown, both teachers. Their father
was the basketball coach at Wilkinson High, and that sport was young Alex's
first passion. He didn't play football until the seventh grade because he was
too big for the youth leagues.

"Football just ended up being the key to my success," he said. "I had to stick
with it."

Still, Barron "would have been an outstanding college basketball player,"
according to Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden. In high school, "I was
more of a defensive player ... blocking shots and rebounding," Barron said.
"But when it was time to score, I was all right."

Barron was invited to join the Seminoles basketball squad his freshman year,
but an injury kept him off the court. The next year, Bowden "was saying I was
going to start, so I just kind of left (basketball) alone," Barron said.

Barron was a three-year starter and became only the sixth FSU player and first
offensive lineman -- to be named a consensus All-American twice. Several
scouting services rated Barron as the top offensive lineman in the 2005 draft.
But Oklahoma's Jammal Brown was taken six spots earlier (No. 13 overall). Some
teams reportedly were wary of Barron's laid-back demeanor.

"He's quiet, and sometimes you don't really know if he's listening," Boudreau
said. "But then when you ask him a question, he can give you the answer."

To complete the package, Barron needs to "pick up how he studies and approaches
the game," Boudreau said. "I think maybe in college it came so natural to him
because he was athletic and he could get away with poor technique. But here,
the guys he's playing against are just as big, just as strong, just as fast."

Anticipating a sparkling reward, the Rams are willing to be patient while
Barron continues to learn on the job.

"He's a diamond that can be polished to be special," Boudreau said.