Viewed in light of “Bountygate” in which the NFL found New Orleans Saints players were paid to injure opponents, Mark Barron’s comments at the NFL Combine back in February could be viewed as alarming.
Given Barron’s reputation as a ferocious tackler, he was asked about his ability to conform to rules that seem to increasingly protect offensive players.
“Honestly, I don’t like them because the way I’ve been taught to play the game, I hit hard,” said Barron. “I guess I’ll have to make some adjustments. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make them. I’m not sure if I will because that’s the way I was taught to play the game. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
The NFL, led by commissioner Roger Goodell, came down hard on the Saints. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been suspended indefinitely, head coach Sean Payton for one year, general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the regular season. The organization was fined $500,000 and forced to forfeit two second-round draft choices.
A report written by Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports on Thursday says Williams was recorded before the Saints’ most recent playoff game instructing his players to injure offensive players of the San Francisco 49ers.
Appeals will be heard on the discipline handed down by the NFL to the Saints, but it’s obvious the league is taking the bounty issue seriously.
Considering the gravity of the situation and the NFL’s intolerance for actions like helmet-to-helmet hits, teams might have to weigh Barron’s comments before investing a draft choice in the Alabama safety.
Considered to be the top player at his position in the 2012 draft class, Barron is more talented than most other safeties.
“He’s a first-round player, that’s the best way to describe him,” said former Packers safety Matt Bowen, currently a columnist at the National Football Post. “He was productive in college, played in a great system, played in a national championship game.”
Among the teams that will be considering whether to select Barron in the first round are the Packers.
The continued uncertainty surrounding Nick Collins has made the future at the safety position in Green Bay cloudy. If Collins retires, which is a possibility, the Packers could be looking for a rookie to step in and start from Day 1.
Collins was injured in Week 2 of the 2011 season, spent the rest of the season on injured reserve and underwent cervical fusion surgery on a herniated disc in his neck. A discussion between Collins and the Packers is expected to happen next week in which they’ll talk about his football-playing future.
If fate happens to bring a series of events that sees Collins retire and Barron still available with the No. 28 overall draft choice in the first round when the Packers pick, they’ll be forced with a decision.
Factoring into any team’s judgement whether to select Barron will be his health status, which includes his recovery from offseason double-hernia surgery.
“It was on and off for about two years,” said Barron. “It came around and stayed around this year, so I just played with it the whole season. I got it fixed right after.”
While Barron attended the NFL Combine, he did not work out due to the surgery. He said he did not think it would impact where he is selected in the Draft.
Still not healthy for Alabama’s pro day in early March, Barron joined his other teammates nursing injuries, running back Trent Richardson and linebacker Courtney Upshaw, holding their own pro day a week ago on March 29. Barron worked out and ran the 40, but told the media he’s only 80 to 90 percent healthy.
Regardless of the injury, regardless of his opinion on the NFL’s rules, Barron is an athlete. He won state track and field titles in events as disparate as the shot put and discus to the high jump and triple jump.
Those are skills that have carried over to the football field and put him in position to play at the professional level.
“I think he’s got good speed,” said Bowen. “He’s very, very good at reading run-pass keys, and by that I mean there’s no wasted movement in his steps. He comes downhill hard in the run game. I think that should translate well to the NFL, the ability to play Cover 2, play in the box, play in the middle of the field.”
All Barron has left to do is prove to teams he’s worthy of being drafted, that he’s over his hernia surgery and he’s not a suspension waiting to happen.
And he thinks his time spent in Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama, where he was a senior co-captain, can help.
“We played in a very difficult defense, first of all,” said Barron. “We did a lot of different schemes. As far as communicating, I had a lot to do with that on the back end. I feel like sometimes I brought some energy with the hits that I made and things of that nature.”
Brian Carriveau is a writer for Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.