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Versatile Rams linebacker Mark Barron is thriving in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme

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  • Versatile Rams linebacker Mark Barron is thriving in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme

    Gary Klein

    Rams linebacker Mark Barron intercepts a pass in front of teammate Nickell Robey-Coleman during a victory over the Cowboys on Oct. 1.
    (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

    Wade Phillips’ impending arrival as the Rams’ defensive coordinator last January caused several players minor anxiety.

    They were excited, of course, about Phillips’ track record of success, but uncertain how they might fit into his 3-4 scheme.

    Mark Barron, at a seemingly undersized 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds for an inside linebacker, was not among the nervous.

    “I wasn’t worried about it all,” Barron said. “Just tell me what you need me to do, what’s my responsibility, and I’m going to go and try to find a way to make plays within that scheme.”

    Barron, 28, has done that for a Rams team that is 7-2 and atop the NFC West heading into Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

    He has 63 tackles and three interceptions, both team bests.

    “You feel him,” coach Sean McVay said. “He’s all over the field.”

    Barron’s playmaking has helped the Rams lead the league with 19 forced turnovers, including 12 interceptions and seven fumbles.

    In last week’s victory over the Houston Texans, Jared Goff’s long touchdown pass to Robert Woods was the third-quarter play that blew open the game and sent the Rams on their way to a 33-7 blowout.

    But Barron’s interception late in the first half positioned the Rams for the breakout.

    After the Rams failed to generate a first down with a fake punt, the Texans took over and moved inside the Rams’ 20-yard line with a chance to build on a 7-6 lead.

    Barron intercepted a pass to quell the threat and returned it 15 yards to set up a drive that led to a field goal to put the Rams ahead going into the break.

    And he did it wearing a cast on his left hand because of a thumb injury.

    “If I’m going to step on the field and play with it, I can’t be out there making excuses,” Barron said. “You got to find a way.”

    Barron has thrived for the Rams since moving from safety to a hybrid role a few seasons ago. It was one of several position switches he made since he began playing football in youth leagues.

    Barron mainly played running back, wingback and receiver in high school in Mobile, Ala. But during his senior season, to help the defense, he also moved to linebacker and safety.

    In college at Alabama, he played safety for two national championship teams and was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the seventh pick in the 2012 draft.

    The Rams acquired Barron for two draft picks in a 2014 trade deadline move, and he finished that season at safety.

    But in 2015, after outside linebacker Alec Ogletree suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 4, former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams utilized Barron in a hybrid role.

    “They just threw me in,” Barron said, adding, “It wasn’t a planned thing or a sit-down-and-talk thing. It was just a way to get me on the field — and I ended up being good at it.”

    So good, the Rams signed Barron to a five-year, $45-million contract before last season.

    He responded by finishing with the second-most tackles and two interceptions for a defense that was forced to carry the load for a team that featured the league’s worst offense.

    Phillips surveyed the talent he was inheriting and saw Barron as a perfect fit for the “Mo” linebacker position, which does not require the stoutness of the other inside linebacker spot played by Ogletree.

    “The better the guy can cover,” Phillips said, “the more you can utilize him.”

    Teammates have not been surprised by the latest demonstration of Barron’s versatility.

    He is “one of those old-school-type players” that can be lined up anywhere and produce, safety Lamarcus Joyner said.

    “I don’t think too many people love the game like Mark Barron,” Joyner said. “Some guys play with passion. Some guys play because they have the ability to play.

    “Mark Barron, he’s two in one.”

    Said Ogletree: “There’s not a lot of people that can kind of transfer a position because they might struggle, whether it’s technique or not having the ability to do it. But a guy like him, he’s definitely able to adjust really quickly and then football instincts take over.”

    McVay and team trainers have been cautious with Barron since the offseason, limiting his participation in workouts and during training camp — and holding him out of preseason games — so that he would be physically ready for the season.

    The Rams are the first winning NFL team for which Barron has played, so he is enjoying the feeling.

    “It feels different,” he said, “and better.”

    The Rams are on pace to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and have been mentioned in the national conversation about Super Bowl contenders.

    But Barron said his mind-set would not vary if the Rams were 2-7 rather than 7-2.

    “I just don’t approach anything thinking I’m going to lose,” he said, “So as far as I’m concerned, we’re going to the Super Bowl.”
    Rams defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks, who was arrested in September after a gun was found in the car he was driving near Bakersfield, was charged with one misdemeanor count of carrying a loaded firearm and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, the Kern County District Attorney’s office said.

    Westbrooks, 26, was initially stopped for speeding on Interstate 5 in Kern County. He was arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen property, carrying a loaded firearm, carrying a stolen loaded firearm, grand theft of a firearm and possession of a high-capacity magazine. Westbrooks has played in every game this season, starting twice.

    He has two sacks. “He’s been up front and honest with us the whole time,” McVay said, “and we trust Ethan on his word and we’re continuing to stick with him through that.”….

    Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, who injured an ankle against the Texans, and linebacker Robert Quinn, who was sidelined for the game because of illness, were full participants in practice.

    I'm hoping he gets a couple more interceptions tomorrow and takes at least one to "the house."

Related Topics


  • Nick
    Rams' Mark Barron says he can shoulder his role as a veteran linebacker
    by Nick
    Rams' Mark Barron says he can shoulder his role as a veteran linebacker
    JUN 28, 2018 | 11:10 AM

    Shortly after the 2017 NFL season ended, Rams linebacker Mark Barron underwent shoulder surgery. A month later, doctors removed bone spurs from his left heel.

    The procedures and ensuing rehabilitation kept Barron sidelined for offseason workouts and minicamp.

    So Barron won’t be backpedaling or sprinting through drills when he holds a free youth football camp Saturday in his hometown of Mobile, Ala. But he will be on the field at Sage Park, where a turnout of as many as 200 boys and girls is expected.

    “I’ll be moving around from station to station,” he said in a telephone interview, “talking to the kids and trying to motivate them.”

    Barron, 28, could find similar circumstances with his young teammates during the upcoming season.

    The Rams made blockbuster moves in March and April, acquiring several veteran players with Pro Bowl resumes. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib arrived via trades, and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh signed as a free agent.

    The shuffle also included the departures of a couple of veterans: inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and edge rusher Robert Quinn.

    Those moves leave Barron, who has six years of experience, surrounded by young linebackers in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.

    Third-year pro Cory Littleton will flank Barron at inside linebacker, with second-year pro Samson Ebukam filling Quinn’s role. The starter at the other outside linebacker spot will be determined during training camp.

    “They’re very mature guys,” Barron said of Littleton and Ebukam. “They’ve taken on their roles, they take them very seriously, so their approach to the game is the way it’s supposed to be.

    “Once I get back out there and get in the huddle with these guys, whatever is needed, whether it’s communication or whatever I need to do, is what I’ll be doing.”

    Barron, who carries a salary-cap number of $10 million this season, understood the moves that sent Quinn and Ogletree to other teams — “This league is a business,” he said — and the Rams must replace their leadership. But Barron is happy with the roster makeup.

    “We’re in a great position to make a Super Bowl run,” he said.

    That’s a welcome scenario for a player who made his first playoff appearance last season after the Rams won the NFC West and finished 11-5 under first-year coach Sean McVay.

    Barron, the seventh pick in the 2012 draft, began his pro career as a safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was traded to the Rams during the 2014 season, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams converted him into a hybrid linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.

    Barron flourished in the role and signed a five-year, $45-million extension before the 2016 season, which...
    -06-29-2018, 11:34 AM
  • Nick
    With Mark Barron’s departure, Rams have an important spot to fill at linebacker
    by Nick
    With Mark Barron’s departure, Rams have an important spot to fill at linebacker
    Friday, Mar 29, 2019 10:05 AM
    Myles Simmons

    When Los Angeles released veteran linebacker Mark Barron earlier this month, the team had interest in bringing him back at a lower contract number.

    That, however, did not work out for the Rams, as Barron signed a two-year deal with the Steelers.

    Barron had been a significant piece of the Rams’ defense going back to 2014, when the team acquired him from the Buccaneers via trade. The former first-round pick was a wildcard of sorts on the Rams’ defense for the rest of that season and in the early stages of 2015, before transitioning to weakside linebacker in the club’s former 4-3 scheme. Then once coordinator Wade Phillips arrived in 2017, Barron became the team’s second starting inside linebacker in the 3-4.

    But Barron’s last couple of years saw him significantly impacted by injury — keeping him out of two games in 2017 and then four in 2018. Nevertheless, Barron’s presence was certainly felt when he was on the field.

    That’s part of why head coach Sean McVay told reporters this week at the league meetings in Phoenix that the Rams are going to miss Barron going forward.

    “You know, I think Mark Barron — what a stud he is. You know, what he’s meant to this team long before our coaching staff got there — we were hopeful to try to get Mark back, but to his credit, he had a lot of teams that were interested,” McVay said. “Pittsburgh got a great one — a great competitor, kind of a silent leader in his own way. I always had so much respect of the way that Mark handled some of the adversity, specific to the injuries. And he just went out and competed. And you could see the way that the players and his coaches respected him. He’s going to be a guy we’re going to miss a lot.”

    At this point, rising second-year linebacker Micah Kiser would slot in as the starter at the Rams’ second inside LB spot alongside defensive signal-caller Cory Littleton. McVay mentioned Kiser on Tuesday, saying that part of the reason why L.A. drafted Kiser was for him to play that position eventually.

    A 2018 fifth-round pick out of Virginia, Kiser played 63 percent of special teams snaps last year — only three players had more — but the linebacker did not get any time on defense after the preseason.

    But whether or not Kiser ends up starting the season at ILB, Los Angeles will likely need to beef up that position. Aside from Barron, linebackers Ramik Wilson and Bryce Hager are also unrestricted free agents. Earlier this month, general manager Les Snead said, “There’s probably a little more work to do at that position through this process.”

    As the offseason continues, inside linebacker is certainly a position to monitor for the Rams both in free agency and the draft.
    -03-30-2019, 06:07 AM
  • eldfan
    It's time for Barron to blossom
    by eldfan
    When he'd leave the modest ranch house on Hillcrest Avenue in Orangeburg, S.C., young Alex Barron usually was headed for the outdoor basketball court nearby.

    It was — and still is — his favorite sport. He was good at it, too.

    Good enough to average a double-double at Wilkinson High, good enough to be invited to walk on at Florida State, and good enough, the 6-foot-7, 302-pound Barron insists, to have made a splash in college, and possibly the NBA. MORE RAMS

    "Truth be told, I think I would've been OK," he said. "I'm not here to say I would've been an all-star for 10 years or anything like that. But I know I'd have done pretty good in college."

    After a pause, Barron added softly, "But that's not the road I chose."

    In reality, the road chose him. It's led him to a new position — he's the Rams' first new full-time left tackle since 1997 — at the best possible time. Barron, 26, is in the final season of the original five-year, $9.2 million deal he signed in 2005, when the Rams took him in the first round of the draft.

    If his play this season suggests that he could rank among the league's top linemen, Barron, who became the Rams' first-team right tackle in his rookie season, stands to cash in — big time. Left tackles, charged with protecting a righthanded quarterback's blind side, are among the game's most valued, and best-compensated, performers.

    "He's talented, and he deserves it," his kid sister, Lasaundra, insisted. Barron doesn't feel entitled, though.

    "I try not to put any added pressure just because of what year it is for me," he said. "But I'm not going to lie and say I haven't thought about it. Why wouldn't I want to be in the conversation with the top tackles in the league? That'd be stupid."


    They still talk about "the play" in Orangeburg, a quiet, working-class hamlet of about 12,500 near the center of the state. The basketball fieldhouse at Wilkinson High was packed as the Bruins took on archrival Irmo.

    A teammate missed a free throw, and Barron soared after the loose ball. Here's how Barron described what happened next to The State, the newspaper of Columbia, S.C.: "I got the rebound, kind of squirmed and went up and let it go. I kind of turned around, so it was almost like a 360, but not all in the air."

    The climax was a rim-rattling slam dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy. "The place exploded. They about took the roof off," said former coach Geb Runager, who was in the stands.

    Barron's father, also named Alex (they have different middle names), was Wilkinson's coach. "It was just unreal," he said. "I looked at my assistant coach and said, 'He could've been doing that all along.' ...

    "I just thought he pretty...
    -08-23-2009, 08:48 AM
  • RamWraith
    Barron Poised for a Breakout
    by RamWraith
    Thursday, August 3, 2006

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    A year ago around this time, Alex Barron was at home in Orangeburg, S.C., awaiting a contract offer from the Rams that would meet he and his agent’s desires.

    This year, though, things are much different for Barron. After a 16-day holdout that was trumped among first-rounders only by Chicago running back Cedric Benson, Barron reported to St. Louis on Aug. 11, 2005.

    For all intents and purposes, Barron is actually participating in his first professional training camp.

    “To tell you the truth, when I got here last year they had already played the Bears and camp was about over with,” Barron said. “This is actually like my first camp. It’s all right. It’s something everybody has to go through every year to get ready for the season.”

    The time Barron missed last season probably cost him a shot at being the starter at right tackle for the entirety of his rookie season. Soon after the Rams used the 19th pick in the draft on Barron, he was declared the starter by coach Mike Martz.

    But Barron fell behind during the holdout as he initially had trouble switching to the right side after playing a lot of left tackle at Florida State. He also was way behind on the playbook because of all the missed installation periods. So, Barron was declared inactive for the first two games of the regular season.

    “It was kind of difficult,” Barron said. “I was learning the plays, learning the system and coming from college (adjusting) to the speed of the game and things like that.”

    Finally, on Sept. 25 against Tennessee, Barron got his first action, replacing a struggling Blaine Saipaia at right tackle. Barron manhandled Titans’ defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch repeatedly and recovered a key fumble in the fourth quarter. He had staked his claim to a starting job he would not relinquish the rest of the season were it not for a hand injury.

    Barron went on to start 11 games, playing in 12 and acquitted himself well against the likes of the Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. Still, Barron was not content with his debut season.

    “You can’t really ever be satisfied,” Barron said. “As a team, we had some different things goal wise and individual. You can never be satisfied you just look to the next year to get better.”

    For Barron, one aspect of getting better meant working diligently in the offseason to improve his physical stature. He played last season in the 315-320 pound range, but estimates that he somewhere below 310 pounds right now. In the opening days of training camp, Barron has looked slimmer yet stronger.

    To get to the level that he wants, though, the real task for Barron will be improving on the mental aspects of the game. Silly errors plagued Barron as a rookie and it’s something he and coach Scott Linehan hope to improve...
    -08-03-2006, 06:54 PM
  • RamWraith
    Offensive lineman Alex Barron is unusually quick
    by RamWraith
    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...
    -09-24-2006, 06:32 AM