RAMS

The Rams' Mark Barron has 'a little added motivation' in facing Tampa Bay, his old team

He was the seventh player picked in the 2012 NFL draft, a hard-hitting safety from Alabama who was envisioned as a possible linchpin for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.

Less than three seasons later, the Buccaneers traded him to the Rams for draft picks.

On Sunday, Mark Barron will return to Raymond James Stadium for the first time since 2014. That’s when Tampa Bay traded him, he said, without any communication that it might happen.

The circumstances provide “a little added motivation” for a player who has thrived as a hybrid linebacker for the Rams.

 “It’s not that big of a deal,” Barron said, grinning. “But it’s a deal.”

Barron, 26, was dealt to the Rams in a trade-deadline swap for fourth- and sixth-round picks.

He had three sacks in nine games for the Rams to finish the 2014 season, and was still at safety when he began 2015.

But after weak-side linebacker Alec Ogletree suffered a broken ankle in Week 4 at Arizona, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deployed Barron in a hybrid role.

The effect on the Rams’ defense — and on Barron’s career — was significant.

Barron finished the season with a team-best 116 tackles and drew comparisons to hybrid linebacker Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals.

In March, Barron parlayed that performance into a five-year, $45-million contract. Barron’s play was a contributing factor in the Rams’ decision to move Ogletree to middle linebacker and part ways with veteran James Laurinaitis.

Last week, Barron broke up a pass and made a team-best 10 tackles in the Rams’ 9-3 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, including one that resulted in a victory-clinching fumble.

“He’s so talented and so instinctive around the line of scrimmage,” Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said. “Just let him play.”

Barron played against the Buccaneers last season at St. Louis, making eight tackles in a 31-23 Rams victory.

But the return to Florida is different.

Barron joined the Buccaneers under former coach Greg Schiano and intercepted three passes in two seasons. Lovie Smith replaced the fired Schiano in 2014, and Barron apparently became expendable.

Barron said he was unaware that he was being discussed in trade talks. When he found out after the deal was done, he was not thrilled.

 “Anytime there’s a situation where you don’t know anything about what’s going on and something like that happens, how would you feel?” he said. “So it most definitely [angered] me a little bit.”

The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Barron is happy with how it has played out.

So is Ogletree.

“I love playing next to him,” he said. “He’s understanding the defense a lot more and understanding the position.

“He can run and hit with the best of them and also cover.”

Barron was in coverage on the victory-clinching play against the Seahawks. After running back Christine Michael caught a late fourth-quarter pass, Barron and Ogletree zeroed in for a tackle.

Ogletree was credited with stripping the ball and recovering it, but Fisher said Barron was equally responsible.

“I told [Barron] the debate is still up: Who caused the fumble?” Ogletree said, laughing. “It was a great play . …  If he got it out, I’m glad, because we got the ball and won the game.”

Said Barron: “We had that talk and we kind of went back and forth on it. We decided to go half and half on it.”

Barron could play a key role Sunday when the Rams try to neutralize Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.

Last season against the Rams, Winston passed for 363 yards and two touchdowns.

That will be only one of the story lines in Barron’s return to Tampa Bay.

“I never got any closure on it,” he said, adding, “I don’t need it.

“I’m good. I’ve moved on.”

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesklein

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
64°