TAMPA, Fla. — At the end of his first day on the practice field as part of a remade secondary, safety Mark Barron was asked what he will gain most from his two new high-profile teammates. His answer came fast. And it only required one word.
“Knowledge,” said Barron, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first-round pick, seventh overall, in 2012. “Just like with Ronde (Barber), there were certain things I wanted to learn from him as far as just studying the game. I’ve picked up some things from him, so now you have two different players I can pick up more things from.”
Barron’s response came Monday after the Bucs’ first organized team activity session of the spring, a hot-and-humid introduction at One Buc Place to what coach Greg Schiano hopes is a significant turnaround for a pass defense that allowed a league-worst 297.4 yards per game last season.
For Tampa Bay, this was the offseason of the glamour news conference, a time when safety Dashon Goldson (formerly of the San Francisco 49ers) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (formerly of the New York Jets) were paraded before cameras and microphones in their new colors, representing promise with six Pro Bowls and four All-Pro elections between them. Both additions were necessary to change the narrative of a troubled unit. (Remember when losing cornerback E.J. Biggers to the Washington Redskins in free agency seemed like a big deal?) And following the retirement of 16-year defensive back Ronde Barber, both will be assumed leaders in what is a new era for the Bucs defense in the first season that includes a break from the Barber/Warren Sapp/Derrick Brooks tie to a championship past.
That leaves Barron in an interesting position. He has a chance to grow with guidance from two of the league’s best, following a year under Barber’s tutelage. It’s obvious the Bucs envision Barron evolving into a physical, contact-seeking specimen with skills refined by studying both Goldson and Revis.
Like those two, Barron can become one of the league’s most-discussed defensive backs. Like those two, Barron can become an effective mix of size and speed. He’s 6-foot-2, 213 pounds and ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash before the draft. Like those two, Barron can find his place within a division where elite secondary members are coveted and trusted to serve as firewalls against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
Unlike those two, though, Barron can join pieces of each mentor to become his own player. He had a strong debut season with the Bucs, finishing with 88 tackles and one interception. But he understands, as do Schiano and Bucs general manager Mark Dominik, that he remains in a formative stage of his career, one that can become notable if he combines lessons from a potential Hall of Famer and two of the best defensive secondary members playing today.
“There are some things I still want to improve upon,” Barron said. “I’m a lot more comfortable — I will say that.”
The comfort comes with experience, and Tampa Bay anticipates that Barron will find more in his second season. This is all part of Dominik’s vision of building a roster that includes a fine balance between youth and veteran influence.
When the general manager introduced Revis in April, he said, “You win in this league with your starters and your stars.” The additions of Goldson and Revis represent the Bucs’ effort to bolster their roster in the “stars” category. But by doing so, the moves could have another desirable effect.
At its best, chemistry is formed when a team’s most skilled lift the young and ambitious around them. Now, Barron represents raw-but-promising talent, a potential Pro Bowl player in the making. If he continues to progress, using lessons from Barber and Goldson and Revis, there will be a moment when the time is his.
“Everybody is pretty much tight already,” Goldson said. “There are a lot of new guys, new faces around here, but some leaders and guys who have been through it. … Revis will be back shortly. But we expect him back healthy. No rush.”
Currently, that’s the theme for Tampa Bay’s new-look secondary. There’s no rush. Especially with Revis out of OTA drills as he rehabs his left knee, there’s no need to push in the spring when the most meaningful strides will occur in late summer and beyond. There’s no need to press when the experiment will come into focus as a process, not something brief.
The same goes for Barron. In many ways, he has the least pressure among members of Tampa Bay’s Big Three in the secondary. Revis, after signing a six-year, $96 million deal with no guaranteed money, must prove he remains the feared “Revis Island” presence after tearing the ACL in his left knee last September. Goldson, after signing a five-year, $41.25 million deal, must prove he remains the ball-tracking force that earned him an appropriate nickname, “The Hawk.”
Barron, meanwhile, carries expectations as a former first-round pick. But they come with a caveat: he still has room to grow. He’s not an accomplished veteran. He’s not a Goldson- or Revis-caliber player — yet — but he has the benefit of drawing from both. At 23, he’s not old enough to be considered one of his position’s greats, but if he continues his current arc, the results will come.
“I could go down the list of players that we have on this team,” Revis said, shortly after he was introduced. “We have some great guys. That was one of the things that me and my team looked at to be a part of this organization. We’ve got some guys who can already play.”
Count Barron among that group.
The best part? Barron has more to show. He has only begun to reveal where his growing knowledge could lead.