NFL Nation: mark barron

Mark Barron excited for fresh start

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- New St. Louis Rams safety Mark Barron missed the telephone call informing him he'd been traded on Tuesday afternoon, leaving him to get the news via media reports.

Of course, nobody can blame Barron for missing a call that he never expected in the first place.

"I was definitely in shock," Barron said. "I had no idea that any of it was going on. I was most definitely shocked but I am excited about the situation [in St. Louis]. I had no idea I was even available for a trade."

As it turned out, Barron was indeed available for trade, even if the team trading for him was also surprised to learn that Barron could be had. According to Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the deal came together in the moments leading up to the deadline because the Rams never suspected that 2012's seventh overall pick was even an option for a trade.

“We obviously liked Mark coming into the league," Fisher said. "He was an outstanding college player. We thought he had a lot of ability and whatever the reasons are down there, we had an opportunity to take advantage of getting a good football player."

After finding out that he'd been dealt and then making his way to St. Louis, Barron arrived at Rams Park on Wednesday afternoon as the Rams were about halfway through their walk-through. He emerged from the locker room in his white No. 26 practice jersey, shook hands with special teams coach John Fassel and then set about getting familiar with his new surroundings.

At that point, Barron and Fisher had only spoken briefly after the Rams acquired him and Barron still hadn't been told what his role could be not only this week but moving forward. Barron has long been regarded as more of a "box" safety, who is at his best wreaking havoc near the line of scrimmage. That would seem to overlap with the skills of current Rams safety T.J. McDonald but Fisher said the Rams have plans for Barron but don't want to discuss them yet.

"We’ll find a way to fit him into our system at some point," Fisher said. "I don’t know whether that’s a week for six weeks or next year. But we need depth at the position and we’re banged up a little bit. It was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.

“I’m not going to speculate the moves and things like that. We got a good player. I’m going to spend some time with him and talk about where and how he fits at some other point.”

For his part, Barron's excitement to be in St. Louis stems largely from the chance to fit into a scheme that better suits him. While Barron stopped short of saying that he didn't fit in Lovie Smith's scheme in Tampa Bay, he did make it clear that he felt he could've done more and been used better.

"Did I think we could have been doing more, using me more? Yeah, I do," Barron said. "But I wouldn’t say it played against my strengths. It was just the way the system was ran.

"[Tampa's system] is passive. That’s kind of the only thing I didn’t like about it. A lot of times I had to sit back and I couldn’t really be as aggressive as I wanted to in that system."

Fisher acknowledged the possibility that Barron could even play this Sunday against San Francisco as Rodney McLeod (knee) and Cody Davis (concussion) recover from injury. What his role will be remains to be seen but it wouldn't surprise to see he and McDonald on the field together and the Rams turning to three safety sub-packages which put Barron on the field with McLeod and McDonald instead of another of the team's linebackers in third-down situations.

As for the characterization of him as a box safety, Barron said he is capable of playing in coverage on the back end and that it's something he did a lot of before arriving in the NFL. With that said, he also made it clear he prefers to be near the line of scrimmage.

"I feel like I’m an athletic guy and I can do whatever I’m asked to do," Barron said. "I just like to get involved so it’s easier to get involved when you’re in the box. It’s easier to get involved earlier in the game."
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- That the St. Louis Rams made any moves at all before Tuesday's trade deadline was a bit of a surprise. That they were buyers rather than sellers was even more of a surprise.

So it was that the Rams shipped fourth and sixth-round picks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for safety Mark Barron, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Scheffer. In making the trade, the Rams add the No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
AP Photo/Scott A. MillerMark Barron, the seventh overall draft selection in 2012, started all 37 games he played in with the Buccaneers.
On paper, adding any talent to a secondary ranked last in the league in opponent completion percentage is a good move, and Barron has long been considered an emerging talent with upside. The Rams liked him coming out of Alabama but passed on him to move down in the 2012 draft before selecting defensive tackle Michael Brockers with the 14th pick.

But the question the Rams must now answer is where, exactly, Barron fits within coordinator Gregg Williams' defensive scheme. At first blush, one would think that Barron could slide in and play alongside T.J. McDonald while the Rams keep tabs on injured safeties Rodney McLeod (knee) and Cody Davis (concussion).

That might be the case until McLeod returns, but Barron and McDonald seem to have similar skill sets. Both are considered "box" safeties who are at their best when they play near the line of scrimmage.

Tampa Bay parted with Barron in part because they clearly preferred not to use him in that role. In two-plus seasons with the Bucs, Barron lined up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage on only a quarter of his snaps (606 of 2,434 snaps including penalties). Left to roam the back end, Barron was often left in coverage, where he has had his share of ups and downs during his career.

If the Rams are to best utilize Barron, Williams will have him spend more time near the line of scrimmage, a job that has thus far been McDonald's. In seven games this season, McDonald has spent half of his snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage, which is double Barron's percentage.

Theoretically, the two could play together, but the question then becomes which one will retreat to more of a free safety role? Barron has obviously done it more and, in fairness, is third among safeties in pass breakups since 2012 with 17.

On the rare occasions McDonald has been tasked with coverage responsibilities, it hasn't worked out too well. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus grades McDonald as one of the worst coverage safeties in the league with a grade of negative-11.0.

One other option is to use Barron or McDonald in a nickel linebacker role which would allow Williams to devise blitz schemes with both McDonald and Barron and McLeod (when he returns) on the back end.

Giving up a fourth- and sixth-round pick likely won't have any sort of damaging effect on the Rams' future and Barron is under contract through next season with an available fifth-year option after that. Taking a flier on Barron in an effort to get better now while thinking about the future. It makes this a relatively low-risk, high-reward move for the Rams.

But for them to realize that reward, Williams and Co. will have to do something they've so far failed to do: Make the pieces fit together.
TAMPA, Fla. -- They talked like they were drafting the second coming of John Lynch.

Instead, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of a past regime might have hit on a second Sabby Piscitelli.

The current regime was only too happy to give up on 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron on Tuesday as the NFL's trading deadline approached. Barron was shipped to the St. Louis Rams for fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2015. The Bucs also traded reserve linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots. The Bucs will get New England’s fifth-round pick next season and send their 2015 sixth-round pick to the Patriots.

Barron
But it's the trade of Barron that's most significant. The current tandem of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht obviously didn't share the same high opinion of Barron that former coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik did only two years ago.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but the Bucs could have taken linebacker Luke Kuechly with the seventh overall pick in the first round in 2012. Instead, they passed and took Barron. Kuechly won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 while playing for Carolina.

Barron hasn't been a total bust like Piscitelli, but he has produced only three interceptions in three seasons. Barron never has come close to playing up to his potential.

Barron became expendable in part because the Bucs have a trio of mediocre safeties in Bradley McDougald, Major Wright and Keith Tandy. None of those safeties has as much natural talent as Barron. But Barron's talent wasn't showing in the current system.

Barron also became expendable because he just wasn't as good as advertised. Maybe Barron turns into a force in St. Louis. But he was nothing more than mediocre in Tampa Bay.

Anybody else think the 2012 Bucs should have gone linebacker and drafted Kuechly?
TAMPA, Fla. – On a day near the middle of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith walked into his post-practice news conference and delivered a message.

"There's nothing really I can give you today," Smith said.

Smith wasn't being condescending or rude to the media. He simply was being truthful. Tampa Bay's camp hasn't had any major news or controversies. It has been downright boring at times -- but it beats the alternative.

We saw the other side of things last year, and it wasn't pretty. There was plenty of news and a ton of distractions. Former coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman were in the early stages of a feud that would end in divorce one month into the season. And it wasn't just Freeman who was having issues with Schiano's style. Numerous players had problems with Schiano's rigid ways and never fully bought into the coach.

That quickly caught up to Schiano, who was fired after two lackluster seasons. Enter Smith, who is the anti-Schiano in just about every way. Smith is calm and treats his players like adults, and you already can see the results of that. There have been no controversies.

Amid the tranquility, players are singing the praises of Smith. The coach brings back memories of Tony Dungy, who guided the Bucs to their first era of sustained success. That's no coincidence. Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay and has an approach similar to Dungy's.

People already are comparing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks. Smith's hiring has brought enthusiasm to a fan base that hasn't had much to be excited about in recent years. But that fan base has pleasant memories of what things were like in the Bucs' glory days.

On several occasions, Smith has said that one of his goals is to make the Bucs relevant again. If things go according to Smith's plans, the Bucs might be boring, but they'll be good.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Smith is known for being a defensive coach, and he has some good ingredients to start with. McCoy and David were All-Pros last year, and they play two of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense Smith is bringing back to the Bucs. McCoy and David give Tampa Bay a nice start, but some other players are going to have to come through. The coaching staff believes strong safety Mark Barron is ready to be a star. If some role players come through, this could be a very good defense.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoug Martin is back from a shoulder injury, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all of the load in a deep backfield.
2. Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.

3. After using their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs have one of the biggest receiving corps in the league. Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5. They're going to present coverage challenges for defensive backs.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The offensive line hasn't looked very good in the preseason, and that's a huge cause for concern. The Bucs are especially thin at guard. All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team after not being able to recover from a toe injury. That leaves four guys without a lot of experience vying for two starting spots. Oniel Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards have been rotating at the guard spots, and two of them will emerge as starters, unless the Bucs bring in some help from the outside.

2. Smith went out on a limb when he signed quarterback Josh McCown as a free agent and immediately named him the starter. McCown, 35, has been a backup most of his career, but he did play well in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went out with an injury. McCown threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. It's too much to expect him to keep up that kind of pace, especially with an unsteady offensive line. Smith, who coached McCown in Chicago, believes he can be successful over the course of a full season. But that's something McCown has never done.

3. Smith's philosophy is to play great defense and be efficient on offense. That worked well enough to get Smith to a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. But that philosophy might be antiquated. The league has become quarterback-driven. The Bucs are in the same division as New Orleans' Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. McCown and this offense might not have enough firepower to stay competitive in the division.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McCoy has had an outstanding training camp. He consistently has gotten into the backfield as a pass-rusher and has been stuffing running plays. But it remains to be seen whether McCoy's excellent play is simply the byproduct of the weakness at the guard spots.
    [+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounVincent Jackson, in his third season with the Bucs, will have a third starting QB throwing to him.

  • The chemistry between McCown and Jackson has been noticeable. In addition to the offseason program, the two spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working out at a local high school.

  • The Bucs have gotten almost nothing out of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers since taking him in the second round in 2011. But they are trying something new with Bowers this year. They're going to use him inside at defensive tackle in obvious passing situations.

  • The Bucs have high hopes for sixth-round draft pick Robert Herron. But don't look for the receiver/return man to get a lot of playing time early on. Herron has had ball-security issues in camp. He needs to hold on to the ball if he's going to earn playing time.

  • Herron will make the 53-man roster. So will Jackson, Evans and Chris Owusu. Eric Page also probably will stick thanks to his return skills. That probably leaves one spot to be filled from a group of receivers who have shown promise in training camp. Tommy Streeter, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton all have shown flashes, but at least a couple of them won't make the roster.

  • Hamstring injuries have kept cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins out for a big chunk of training camp. But there's a flip side to that, and it's positive. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has gotten a ton of work with the first team and has looked good. Banks didn't have a great rookie year. But his performance in camp probably will keep him in the starting lineup.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 8

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The offense was having a pretty strong practice Sunday evening. But that changed when the Bucs worked on goal-line situations at the end of practice. It was the first time the Bucs have worked on those situations and the defense clearly won. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had two stuffs and strong safety Mark Barron had a big stop. “Once you get down to the red zone, speaking offensively, you’ve got to get touchdowns,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. “The ball’s on the 2-yard line, you’ve got to get a touchdown every time. For the defense to hold them out, it shifts momentum quite a bit. I saw the defense pick it up. You can hide a little bit, but down on the goal line you can’t hide. You show your true colors down there. I liked some of the things I saw.’’
  • Cornerback Alterraun Verner was one of Tampa Bay’s biggest signings in free agency. But he has yet to practice this camp due to a hamstring injury. “It’s not an ideal situation,’’ Smith said. “You come in new, we want him out there every snap, especially a day like today -- those are the times when the defense really becomes one when you’re down on the goal line with your backs up against the wall like that. We brought Alterraun in to do what he’s been doing for a long time. That’s the reason we signed him to a contract. It’s not an ideal situation. It puts us back a little bit, but that’s a part of it. You have injuries. He’ll be back out there. We still have a little bit of time.’’
  • Smith attended Derrick Brooks’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday night. Smith’s flight arrived back in Tampa at about 4 a.m. Sunday and he came straight to One Buc Place to get ready for Sunday’s work. “We set up our schedule,’’ Smith said. “We knew it would be a quick turnaround. We got plenty of sleep. We slept on the plane all the way back.’’
  • Rookie Robert Herron continues to struggle on punt returns. Herron dropped another punt Sunday. But Smith isn’t overly concerned about that. “He’s a rookie,’’ Smith said. “He’s not our returner that we plan on opening the season with, but you start the process. I’ve seen improvement from him. You hate whenever they drop them, but they do from time to time. He is getting better.’’
  • The Bucs are scheduled to practice at 4:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:32
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The defense dominated the first few days of camp, but Wednesday was the best showing by the offense so far. There were two players in particular that stood out. Quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Vincent Jackson showed they’ve developed some chemistry. They hooked up on a pass play of about 50 yards and connected for back-to-back touchdowns in red-zone drills. “They have to have good chemistry," coach Lovie Smith said. “Vincent’s our No. 1 receiver. We’re banking on him making a lot of plays. The chemistry or whatever you want to call it between he and Josh has to be good. Vince is a playmaker. You get down there, you have to get the ball into your playmaker’s hands. We did that today on more than one occasion, which is great." McCown had his best practice by far. I only saw him make one bad throw, and that was intercepted in the end zone by strong safety Mark Barron.
  • Wednesday was the most physical practice of camp so far. There were at least four minor altercations. “We don’t want a lot of fights," Smith said. “In a game, they throw you out of the game and that’s not good. Getting ready for the season, we want it to be as game like as possible. If you do feel you have to mix it up with a guy, fight him the way you would fight your brother. No cheap shots or anything like that."
  • There’s been some concern among fans about whether or not Mason Foster can handle the increased amount of pass coverage the Bucs are going to ask out of their middle linebacker in the Cover Two defense. Foster dropped some weight in the offseason to increase his quickness and has made a good early impression on Smith. “He’s growing into the position," Smith said. “He couldn’t have a better tutor than (linebackers coach and former Bucs middle linebacker) Hardy Nickerson."
  • Starter Doug Martin has looked very good at running back, but he’s not the only one. Third-round draft pick Charles Sims has made some nice cuts in the last few practices and also has shown he can catch the ball out of the backfield. I think Sims might have a shot to be the top backup to Martin. “He’s a scholarship player, looking at it in college terms," Smith said. “He’s not a walk-on. He got his scholarship for a reason."
  • There hasn’t been much talk about the fullback position. For the record, Jorvorskie Lane has been running with the first team.
  • The Bucs signed cornerback Kip Edwards to fill the roster spot that was created when guard Carl Nicks departed from the team. The team officially released Nicks on Wednesday.
  • Cornerback Alterraun Verner missed another day of practice with a hamstring injury, but Smith said Verner is getting closer to being able to return.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:30
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The Bucs, who had their practice abbreviated by lightning Friday, got their first full workout of camp in Saturday evening and the results were predictable. There was good and bad. No series summarized that more than a couple of plays near the middle of practice. On one play, quarterback Josh McCown threw an interception to strong safety Mark Barron. On the next play, McCown bounced back and hit Vincent Jackson with a perfectly thrown ball. Coach Lovie Smith said he expects the team to be more precise when it puts on pads for the first time on Sunday.
  • Speaking of first practices, Saturday marked the true debut of rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He missed the offseason program due to NCAA regulations and was very limited in the rookie minicamp by a foot injury. But Seferian-Jenkins said his foot is fine now and he practiced with no limitations. After missing so much time, though, Seferian-Jenkins might be a little behind the other tight ends – Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker. “He’s playing catch-up,’’ Smith said. “But he’s catching up.’’
  • It’s usually tough to get players to talk about specific goals, but defensive end Michael Johnson broke that rule of thumb. Johnson set one goal for himself and one for the entire defense. He wants to get back to double-digit sacks like he had in 2012 with Cincinnati. He also said the Bucs want to have the best defense in the league. Those two goals kind of go hand in hand. There’s been a lot of talk about how defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David compare to Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, who were the cornerstones during Tampa Bay’s glory years. But a lot of people forget the Bucs didn’t fully get over the top until they got Simeon Rice as an outside rusher. If Johnson can make an impact anywhere close to what Rice did, the Bucs could end up being a very good defense.
  • I came into camp very skeptical about Tampa Bay’s depth at wide receiver after Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. But I’m starting to warm up to this position group. No one stood out, but guys like Tommy Streeter, Solomon Patton, Russell Shepard, Louis Murphy, Robert Herron, Lavelle Hawkins, Eric Page, Skye Dawson and David Gettis each had some bright moments. I think one of those guys will step up and claim the No. 3 job. That may be all the Bucs need because I’m not anticipating a lot of four-receiver sets from this offense.
  • Read into this whatever you want, but Jamon Meredith worked as the first-team left guard and Oniel Cousins worked at right guard. After the departure of Carl Nicks, I think the Bucs still are trying to figure out what they’re going to do at guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards get some looks with the first team.
TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reported to training camp Thursday, but guard Carl Nicks didn’t show.

Nicks was excused for personal reasons, according to coach Lovie Smith. Nicks was excused only for the day, Smith said. Apparently, the personal reasons have nothing to do with the toe injury Nicks is attempting to come back from.

“It doesn’t concern me,’’ Smith said. “It’s part of training camp. It’s part of life.’’

Whenever Nicks does report, his health still will be a question mark. Nicks has been cleared for football activities, but the Bucs have indicated they might bring him along slowly. Nicks missed all but two games last season due to the toe injury and a MRSA infection. Nicks also missed the entire offseason program.

Nicks was the only player not to report as the Bucs get ready for their first practice Friday. Safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, who both missed the offseason program with injuries, have been cleared and are expected to take part in Friday’s practice.
Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears were a consistent contender because they played strong defense. The coach will try to get the same result with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the ingredients are there for that to happen.

David
McCoy
McCoy
Smith inherited some special talent in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. Both are just reaching their prime. Smith has compared McCoy to Warren Sapp and David to Derrick Brooks. Sapp and Brooks were the keys to the defense during Tampa Bay’s glory days. The Bucs believe McCoy and David can fill the same roles in the new generation and that a strong defense will help make the franchise relevant again.

McCoy and David are going to be good for years to come and they form a strong foundation. But the Bucs will need some complementary players to come through for this defense to be really good. Defensive end Michael Johnson was brought in as a free agent because the Bucs believe he can bring pressure from the outside. If he does, that’s only going to help McCoy and Clinton McDonald in the middle.

A strong pass rush will only help a secondary that has good potential, but hasn’t hit it yet. Alterraun Verner was brought in to be the No. 1 cornerback, but the Bucs need Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to step up as the other cornerback and nickelback. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron have talent and can form a nice tandem.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster is going to get a chance to play a more significant role than he has in the past. Foster will call the defensive plays and be asked to drop into coverage more than he did in his first three seasons.

This defense will be the key factor in determining if Smith’s regime will succeed. The offense can be average, but the defense has to be special.

Bucs add depth in secondary

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
5:32
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Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith has reached back into his past to add some more depth for the secondary.

Former Chicago safety Major Wright agreed to terms with the Buccaneers on Friday evening.

The move is somewhat curious because the Bucs appear to have starters at both safety positions with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. But Goldson has had issues with being fined for illegal hits.

At best, Wright could challenge Goldson for a starting job. But it’s more likely that Wright will play in sub packages and on special teams.
Revis
Verner
In another move that signals the likely end of Darrelle Revis' time with Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers have agreed to terms with Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner.

The four-year deal is worth $26.5 million and the former member of the Tennessee Titans is likely to step directly into Revis’ place as a starting cornerback. Revis is scheduled to make $16 million in 2014 and the Bucs are expected to either trade or release him.

Verner will be a better fit in coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa Two scheme. Revis is known for his man-to-man cover skills and the Bucs don’t want to pay him big money in a system in which he doesn’t thrive.

Verner can start opposite second-year pro Johnthan Banks and Tampa Bay should have a solid secondary with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron at the safety spots.

Add a guy that had 3.5 sacks last season to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense and what do you have?

Potentially one of the best defenses in the NFL.

That’s what I see after the Bucs came to an agreement with former Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson on Tuesday. The five-year, $43 million deal will be finalized after the league year officially begins at 4 p.m.

Johnson’s production was rather ordinary last season, and this might not seem like a big haul for the Buccaneers. But it is. Johnson is capable of producing a lot more than 3.5 sacks, as evidenced by the 11.5 he posted in 2012. He might have been the best edge rusher on the market, and that is something the Bucs sorely need.

Tampa Bay got only 6.5 sacks from its defensive ends in 2013. Plug in Johnson and the pass rush suddenly gets a lot better -- on paper. Heck, the entire defense gets better instantly.

If Johnson can deliver anything close to what he did in 2012, this defense could be elite. The interior of the defensive line is very good with Gerald McCoy, the linebackers are led by All-Pro Lavonte David, and safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron are well above average.

Adding Johnson to the mix might make Tampa Bay an elite defense.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Cowboys

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
3:00
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The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2014 NFL draft needing to find as much defensive help as possible, preferably along the defensive line.

In Mel Kiper's first mock draft Insider for 2014, he has the Cowboys selecting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 17th overall pick. (Kiper has the Baltimore Ravens winning the coin flip that will decide the final positioning at the NFL scouting combine.)

Two defensive linemen -- Florida State's Timmy Jernigan and Notre Dame's Louis Nix -- went to the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers at Nos. 14 and 15. Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt went No. 23 to the Kansas City Chiefs. Oregon State's Scott Crichton went to Denver at No. 31.

Clinton-Dix is a sound pick. The Cowboys need safety help next to Barry Church. J.J. Wilcox, their third-round pick in 2013, and Jeff Heath, who was undrafted, handled that role last season and struggled. Wilcox lost his job to Heath with a knee injury and could not reclaim the starter's role, though he did split snaps later in the year.

Clinton-Dix is athletic and can play the center field safety role. He missed two games last year because of a suspension for accepting a loan from an assistant strength and conditioning coach. He finished the season with 52 tackles and two interceptions. In 2012, he had five interceptions.

The Cowboys' defense is predicated on the pass rush and turnovers. Clinton-Dix could help with the latter, but the Cowboys need a lot of help with the former.

Two years ago, the Cowboys were high on Alabama safety Mark Barron but traded up to get cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. Barron went one selection later to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Something else to note is Jason Garrett's relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban. Garrett was on his staff with the Miami Dolphins and considers Saban one of his mentors. He will know all he needs to know about the Alabama players heading into the draft.
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

TAMPA, Fla. -- The All-NFC South team is out, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fared about as well as you'd expect from a 4-12 team.

Five members of the Buccaneers were chosen to the team, which was chosen by the four writers who cover the division's teams. Let's start with the offense because that will be short.

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson was the only member of the Bucs' offense selected. He deserved it because he put up solid numbers despite drawing constant double-teams after No. 2 receiver Mike Williams went out with an injury just before midseason.

Now, let's flip over to the defense, where the Bucs fared pretty well. They placed four players on the defense, and none of them is a surprise. Gerald McCoy might be the best all-around defensive tackle in the game right now. Second-year linebacker Lavonte David had a breakthrough season and established himself as one of the top players in the league at his position.

Darrelle Revis brought the Bucs exactly what they were expecting -- a shutdown cornerback. The final member of the Bucs to make the All-NFC South team might come as a surprise to some but shouldn't be a shock to those who watched closely. In the eyes of the coaching staff and front office, strong safety Mark Barron really blossomed in his second season.

 
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy(AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackLavonte David (54) and Gerald McCoy (93) are cornerstones for what could be a stellar defense.
TAMPA, Fla. -- On the surface, the jobs as coach and general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might not look all that attractive.

But dig a little deeper and it's not hard to imagine candidates lining up to replace Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik, who were fired Monday morning. Look at Tampa Bay's roster, draft position and salary-cap situation, and it's easy to envision a turnaround on the scale of what the Kansas City Chiefs did this year, when they reached the playoffs after a 2-14 season.

Quite simply, the Bucs have too much talent to be a 4-12 team. They have Pro Bowl players in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Linebacker Lavonte David should have been selected to the Pro Bowl, but was overlooked. Throw in safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and middle linebacker Mason Foster, and the Bucs have the makings of what could be a very good defense.

Although the offense struggled most of the season, the cupboard is not bare. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is a top-notch player and if Doug Martin can get healthy, he can be one of the league's best running backs.

In hindsight, Schiano and his staff didn't do a good job. Defensively, they wasted talent by having the defensive linemen stunting too often and the defensive backs playing too much zone coverage. The offense lacked imagination with the running game struggling most of the year and rookie Mike Glennon being thrown in as quarterback after the early-season benching and eventual release of Josh Freeman.

I think the defense can be tweaked, mainly by adding a pass rusher or two, and become very good very quickly. The offense is going to take more work.

But the good news for the next coach and general manager is that the Bucs have the resources to make some significant moves. They'll hold the No. 7 pick in the draft. Plus, Dominik's parting gift was a good salary-cap situation.

As it stands right now, the Bucs are about $10 million under the projected salary cap. Plus, they can carry over almost $7 million in cap space from this year. The Bucs don't have any prominent free agents of their own to re-sign, so they can be significant players in the market.

But the first major choice the new coach and general manager have to make is at quarterback. Is Glennon the long-term answer?

Had Schiano stayed, Glennon was his guy. But look at what Glennon did as a rookie and it's tough to tell if he has any chance of being a franchise quarterback. I think Glennon eventually can be a solid quarterback with a very good team around him.

But, at very least, the new coach and general manager need to bring in someone to compete with Glennon. They probably need to do more than that. They probably need to either sign a high-profile free agent (Jay Cutler?) or use their first-round pick on a quarterback.

They also need to improve the offensive line that's supposed to protect that quarterback. The line was supposed to be a strength this year, but it wasn't. Guard Carl Nicks missed all but two games due to a staph infection and foot problems and there's no guarantee Nicks will ever get back to full health. Guard Davin Joseph and tackle Donald Penn, both 30, are getting older.

It might be time to blow up the offensive line. And the team definitely needs help at tight end.

But that's not a huge to-do list. If the new coach and general manager can make a few upgrades, this team could be a lot better than 4-12 next season.

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