TAMPA, Fla. Rookie strong safety Mark Barron couldnt ask for a better study partner to begin his education in the ways of the National Football League.
The No. 1 draft pick of the Tampa Bay Bucs lines up each day in camp alongside a guy who may be a freshman at free safety, but hes the dean of Tampa Bays defensive backfield.
Ronde Barber begins his 16th season of his heralded Bucs career by shifting from his traditional perch on the right corner into the middle of the secondary. That places him next to the University of Alabama product expected to become a future fixture of the unit.
The B&B pairing has created the foundation of a valuable learning experience both for the new kid and the old pro.
Barron, who signed a four-year deal worth 14.5 million before camp, has savored the opportunity to line up beside Barber.
Most definitely, he said. The guys been in the league 16 years, so hes been through pretty much everything you can go through as an NFL player. I feel like if theres anything I need to know, I can just go ask him.
One of the lessons Barber imparts every day is the imperative need to work hard at all times, something that has defined him as a player and helped his smooth transition to safety in the final stage of his career.
Barron expected to see nothing less from a five-time NFL Pro Bowler and Iron Man of the Buc defense, making his 200th consecutive start in the Sept. 9 season opener against Carolina.
Actually, Im not surprised, because any time you stay in the league 16 years, youve got to be doing those type of things," he said. Thats what it takes to get to that point.
On the other hand, the hard-hitting 22-year-old was surprised to hear that Barber, 37, had said last week that hes actually learned a little about the safety position from Barron. He might have been watching me or something, said the seventh overall NFL pick, but I really didnt know that.
Head coach Greg Schiano has been pleased with the evolving relationship between Barron and Barber. I think (Mark) understands hes fortunate to have a guy like Ronde to mentor him, he said. Sometimes guys fresh out of college dont realize how fortunate that they are to have that. Its come easy; I think its going to continue to come easy. Its a different level of competition. On the flip side of that, Ronde has been willing to help and share, which I think is great.
Barron has been dealing with a minor injury lately and was limited in drills last week. "I'm just doing what I can," he said. I had a little minor toe issue, but it's getting better every day. I've just got to take my time with it and be careful with it. It's more of a precautionary thing." He was on the practice field Monday and the injury isnt considered serious.
Meanwhile, No. 24 is looking forward to making the impact that the Bucs need from him as a replacement for Tanard Jackson. And hell get that chance in game conditions Friday night at 7:30 in Miami, when the Bucs face the Dolpins in their first exhibition game of 2012.
After not being able to engage in any real hitting during workouts, Barron cant wait to get on the field in game conditions. I really havent had a chance to hit anybody in practice, and I havent had that contact for a while, he said. So Im kind of itching for that right now.
Hes sandwiched in between some impressive company beyond Barber, with play-making Aqib Talib on the left corner and veteran free agent Eric Wright taking over for Barber on the right side. And overall, Barron is excited by the prospects for the entire defense under new coordinator Bill Sheridan.
I feel like we have a very talented group, everything from the secondary on down to the line, he said. Its just a matter of putting everything together.
Barron knows that hell be scrutinized closely by coaches and Bucs fans this season, but he welcomes the pressure that accompanies the high expectations.
It's pressure, but I like that pressure," he said. "I want that pressure put on me. I don't mind that. I'm comfortable with everything. I'm still learning, but at the same time I'm comfortable. I know that a lot of pressure's been put on me, and I'm ready for it."
And learning from an old master has made him readier than ever.
NOTES: Talib left practice at the stadium Saturday night with a slight hamstring aggravation and didnt practice Monday. He tweaked his ham; I dont think its bad, Schiano said. We just put him on the bikes (as a precautionary move). Schiano added that offensive tackle Donald Penn, recovering from a hamstring strain, is coming along well: Its not a little thing, its going to take some time to get back. Hes doing well but hes not ready to go.
Schiano gave a vote of confidence to his defensive line, with starters Michael Bennett at left end, Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller at tackle, and Adrian Clayborn at right I feel good about our first line, he said. Im concerned about depth. You need to be able to roll fresh guys at them. If the drop-off is so severe between your first and second team rush group, that doesnt (bode) well for us in a two-minute drill. Were working on it like crazy to try develop depth behind. I think the first-line guys, though, are going to be able to generate some rush.
Schiano has been impressed with rookie linebacker Lavonte David, who holds down the starting position on the weak side. So far, so good, he said. Lavonte has picked things up quickly and is playing at a high level. Now we havent played a game yet, so I want to temper that enthusiasm. But he sure is fun to coach so far.