It is exceedingly rare that the Pittsburgh Steelers bring in a player during free agency and pay him $6 million per season or more. That’s what makes it so stunning that the addition of Mark Barron this offseason is somewhat flying under the radar, having been overshadowed by the injection of 10th-overall pick Devin Bush in to the mix.
As has been the case all offseason so far, however, as inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky confirmed yesterday, the team has been running all three of their top players the position in their starting defense, including incumbent Vince Williams. “We have three guys on the first team, so Vince, Mark, and Devin are all getting reps”, he said.
When asked specifically about what he has seen from Barron, his biggest impression about the veteran was really just that: how much of a veteran he is of the game. “Mark is a great professional”, he said. “He’s a good linebacker and he’s a lot like Devin in that he loves the game. He grew up in Alabama, went to Alabama, so he knows the game inside and out. He likes playing it. So, it’s great to have him”.
While it’s nice and all to have a winning personality and to love what you do, of course, that’s not going to bring a ballcarrier to the ground, so of course Olsavsky expanded further. “I don’t want to say he was a pleasant surprise, but it’s great to see a guy, you know he’s talented, but then when you get him in your room, you’re like, wow, this guy’s really good in the classroom, good on the field”.
Barron originally entered the league as a safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a top-10 pick a number of years ago, but he has spent the past several seasons playing linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams, where he finally began to settle in.
He was not coming off the best season of his career in 2018, but the Steelers believe that he can execute their system and inject some much-needed athleticism into the middle of the defense, something that was sorely lacking a year ago.
Even with the presence of Bush, Barron’s ultimate role is not yet determined. That will be decided over the course of training camp and the preseason, which among the three players will be the ‘primary’ starters, a competition that all three of them have talked about and embraced.
Barron could end up starting, either with Bush or with Williams, but even if he fails to do so, he figures to have some sort of role, whether it is rotational or in sub-packages, or as the dimebacker, something that Morgan Burnett didn’t seem particularly suited for in 2018.