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Barron’s versatility a boon for Rams’ defense

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EARTH CITY, Mo. — After Mark Barron was acquired by the St. Louis Rams in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2014 season, the questions were varied, but the most important was: What went wrong in Tampa Bay, where the safety was the seventh overall selection in the 2012 draft?

It was said Barron wasn’t very good in pass coverage. Maybe so. But it’s safe to say now, that Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has figured out a way to get the best out of Barron.

It’s never easy to figure out the best way to use a player when they join the roster at midseason. But Williams went to work, often deploying Barron in a linebacker spot in the box to defend the run in passing situations and often blitz. In just nine games, Barron had 3.0 sacks as well as making his physical presence known.

This year, with a full offseason to get ingrained in the system, his role was expanding, although his most snaps in the first three games of the season were the 46 percent he played in Week 3 against Pittsburgh following 27 and 33 percent in the first two games.

However, everything changed in Week 4 against Green Bay when weak-side starting linebacker Alec Ogletree suffered an ankle injury that required surgery. In that game, his snaps sky-rocketed to 70 percent, and he was being utilized more and more as a linebacker.

Heading to Sunday’s game against Cleveland, Williams said of Barron, “Hopefully with him, nobody should count him out on anything. As our multiple safeties, when you bring a nickel or a corner into the game to play nickel or you bring a safety into the game to play nickel and you bring a safety into the game to play in the box, that person that’s coming in in substitution is playing the linebacker position. He’s done that since he walked in the door here.

“It hasn’t been discussed that much when people don’t really know what I’m doing, why I’m doing with different packages. But, he’s a really good football player. How we set our skill set and our schemes to his skill set is good. Not only his, there’s other guys there too. There’s other multiple of guys that we have going in at that position. We’ve just got to get the right one out on the field at the right time.”

Against the Browns, there was no mystery about being on the field at the right time. That’s because Barron played all 75 snaps and put up monster numbers, according to tape review by the coaches. He had 19 tackles, 16 solo and two for loss, and also added two forced fumbles and one quarterback hit.

Speaking of packages and versatility, Williams added, “Every single player in this league and here, I talk about, you have to be able to learn more than just one position. You’ve got a primary position. You’ve got a backup position. We have 42 ways to add up to 11. We have 42 packages of defense that we’ll trot 11 guys out there. We play the same kind of a defensive structure, but we have different people playing different spots. He fits in that very well. I’ve been real proud of him, too.”

Head coach Jeff Fisher said, “Gregg and his staff have done a good job. We miss Alec, but we’ve adjusted with Mark. We’re getting good pressure. Mark’s just going to continue to get better.”

After the game against the Browns, Barron was asked if he thinks of himself as a linebacker or a safety. He paused, thinking, and said, “Just call me a football player.”

On the team’s current depth chart, he is listed as a starting linebacker. So confident in Barron are the coaches that linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar was released Tuesday. He had been re-signed after Ogletree was injured.

Listed at 213 pounds, Barron isn’t the least bit concerned about being smaller than other linebackers.

He said, “I’m good. That’s easy to me. It’s just football. You just get to run around and play football.”

SERIES HISTORY: 131st regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 64-63-3. The 49ers had won three straight in the series before the Rams won in San Francisco last season, 13-10.

GAME PLAN

–Very little changes for the Rams on a week-to-week basis. They want to run the ball to control the game, although they know the passing offense has to improve.

Defensively, they will look to contain 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, but still put pressure on him, which they hope will lead to turnovers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. 49ers linebackers.

Gurley has been a big-play machine in the three games he has started, so the quartet of 49ers linebackers will be challenged to prevent Gurley from getting through the second level. Gurley has three runs for 48 yards or more in three starts and eight runs of 20 yards or more. Those eight runs have totaled 293 yards, which is 66.3 percent of his 442 yards. His 66 other attempts have gone for 149 yards (2.3 yards per attempt). San Francisco ILBs NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite and OLBs Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch will be tasked with getting Gurley down when he gets through defensive line.

–Rams CBs Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson vs. 49ers WR Torrey Smith.

The Rams’ secondary has been solid at limiting yards per catch, but they will be going against the speedster Smith, who has just 14 receptions, but they have been good for 323 yards (23.1 per reception). He has touchdown plays of 75 and 76 yards.


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