TAMPA, Fla. — When the new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally don their pads in camp late next month, plenty of gazes will be fixed on jersey No. 24.
That includes rookie NFL head coach Greg Schiano, who can’t wait to see the hard-hitting style of strong safety and first-round draft pick Mark Barron in action.
“Mark’s a very explosive athlete, and I think he’s got a very good feel as a football player,” Schiano said Tuesday after the first round of a mandatory three-day minicamp.
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“Call it instinct, call it eyes. He feels and sees things well,” Schiano said. “And what you don’t see here is what was very impressive on his college tape: He’s an explosive hitter. When he hits you, you feel it. So I’m anxious to get to training camp and see him with pads on.”
The former Alabama standout is the only Tampa Bay draft pick who hasn’t signed, but Barron — the NFL’s seventh overall selection — said Tuesday he doesn’t expect the holdup to become any kind of issue.
“Oh, not at all,” he said. “Just a few things have to get worked out.”
In the meantime, the 6-foot-1, 213-pounder plans to keep immersing himself in his playbook so he can continue building on his foundation from recent offseason training workouts and the current minicamp. So far, things have gone precisely as he envisioned.
“Pretty much just a lot of hard work,” he said. “We come out here and we grind every day and get better acquainted with the system. . . . There really hasn’t been any surprise. I expected hard work, and that’s what it’s been so far.”
The fast tempo of practices and rigorous attention to detail under Schiano and his staff are nothing new to Barron. In fact, it reminds him of his Crimson Tide days with head coach Nick Saban.
“I’m kind of used to it — it’s similar to what I did in college,” he said. “It helps me get back in the groove.”
As for the two coaches, Barron added, “They have some similarities as far as discipline and what they expect from you when you come out here to work.”
That’s one reason it has been a smooth transition for Barron, who led the Tide to back-to-back national titles as a two-time captain and anchor of the vaunted defense that finished first in the nation in both pass and run defense in 2011. In his sophomore season, Barron’s seven interceptions ranked first in the Southeastern Conference. He made only two as a senior because opposing offenses did their best to stay away from him. Still, Barron made his impact felt with 66 tackles.
He’s already caught the attention in practice of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman.
“Mark’s a stud,” Freeman said. “A physical specimen. Big guy. Fast and quick hitter. A very instinctive kind of guy. He’s going to cause problems for a lot of offenses.”
Call it a mutual admiration society. Barron’s assessment of Freeman: “Smart guy, strong arm. Can make pretty much any throw. I’m looking forward to having him on my side.”
Barron also counts himself lucky to be on a team with another high-profile Buc — 16-year veteran cornerback Ronde Barber, who also has gotten practice time at safety under Schiano.
“It’s a privilege for me (to work alongside Barber),” Barron said, “and it’ll be very beneficial for me as a player.”
Schiano also sees value in Barber’s presence — for Barron and the rest of the defense.
“”I think it helps. I think it helps more probably from (the perspective of) how to be a professional,” Schiano said. “Because Ronde’s learning a new position himself and everybody’s learning a new defense. But the way Ronde prepares (helps) the entire defense —this guy’s been doing this for a long time. And he takes a rookie’s mentality in his preparation.”
Schiano favors an aggressive, attacking style of play for his defense, and Barron sees himself as a good fit.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to get better acquainted and comfortable with it,” he said, “and be able to play my game.”
This much is certain: There will be plenty of people watching No. 24 when the games begin.
NOTES: Defensive tackle Brian Price remains excused from practice after the death of his sister in California last month. . . . Schiano said he couldn’t be happier with the play and impact of veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson. “I didn’t know a ton, having not been involved in the pro game and — to be honest with you — not having a lot of chance to watch the pro game. But when I did arrive and (general manager) Mark (Dominik Dennis (Hickey) flooded me with tape, it didn’t take long to see the production. Just look at the stat look. But when you don’t know is what a great worker he is, what a true professional he is. He’s really fun to coach.” . . . Defensive end Michael Bennett is making steady progress coming back from a foot injury. “Michael’s feeling better in his last five or six workouts,” Schiano said. “And you can see him moving much better with his foot — not that it was holding him back very much, but just that was really ready to let it fly. He’s still not 100 percent, but hopefully by training camp he will be.” . . . Schiano said the defensive backfield is so packed with talent that cutting players won’t be easy when the time comes. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we’re probably going to have to end up letting go a defensive back who can play in this league. That’s always tough, but it’s a good problem to have.”