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Rams' Mark Barron says he can shoulder his role as a veteran linebacker

Shortly after the 2017 NFL season ended, Rams linebacker Mark Barron underwent shoulder surgery. A month later, doctors removed bone spurs from his left heel.

The procedures and ensuing rehabilitation kept Barron sidelined for offseason workouts and minicamp.

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So Barron won’t be backpedaling or sprinting through drills when he holds a free youth football camp Saturday in his hometown of Mobile, Ala. But he will be on the field at Sage Park, where a turnout of as many as 200 boys and girls is expected.

“I’ll be moving around from station to station,” he said in a telephone interview, “talking to the kids and trying to motivate them.”

Barron, 28, could find similar circumstances with his young teammates during the upcoming season.

The Rams made blockbuster moves in March and April, acquiring several veteran players with Pro Bowl resumes. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib arrived via trades, and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh signed as a free agent.

The shuffle also included the departures of a couple of veterans: inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and edge rusher Robert Quinn.

Those moves leave Barron, who has six years of experience, surrounded by young linebackers in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.

Third-year pro Cory Littleton will flank Barron at inside linebacker, with second-year pro Samson Ebukam filling Quinn’s role. The starter at the other outside linebacker spot will be determined during training camp.

“They’re very mature guys,” Barron said of Littleton and Ebukam. “They’ve taken on their roles, they take them very seriously, so their approach to the game is the way it’s supposed to be.

“Once I get back out there and get in the huddle with these guys, whatever is needed, whether it’s communication or whatever I need to do, is what I’ll be doing.”

Barron, who carries a salary-cap number of $10 million this season, understood the moves that sent Quinn and Ogletree to other teams — “This league is a business,” he said — and the Rams must replace their leadership. But Barron is happy with the roster makeup.

“We’re in a great position to make a Super Bowl run,” he said.

That’s a welcome scenario for a player who made his first playoff appearance last season after the Rams won the NFC West and finished 11-5 under first-year coach Sean McVay.

Barron, the seventh pick in the 2012 draft, began his pro career as a safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was traded to the Rams during the 2014 season, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams converted him into a hybrid linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.

Barron flourished in the role and signed a five-year, $45-million extension before the 2016 season, which turned out to be Jeff Fisher’s final season as coach.

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When McVay hired Phillips, there were questions about how Barron would fit in a 3-4 scheme and whether he could withstand the physical toll of playing inside linebacker.

To make sure he would be ready for the season, Barron was held out of most training camp drills last summer and did not play in preseason games. Once the season began, he said coaches, trainers and the strength and conditioning staff “did a great job” of working out a limited practice plan that kept Barron available for games.

Rams linebacker Mark Barron intercepts a pass in front of teammate Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Rams linebacker Mark Barron intercepts a pass in front of teammate Nickell Robey-Coleman. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Despite playing much of the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and bone spurs in both heels, he became one of the defense’s top playmakers. He intercepted three passes.

“I was playing through injuries the whole year and still performed well, but it’s always in the back of your mind: How would I be able to perform if I felt 100%, if I felt good,’” he said.

After the Atlanta Falcons eliminated the Rams in the wild-card round of the playoffs, Barron had the surgeries. Soon after, general manager Les Snead began remaking the defense to more specifically fit Phillips’ needs. Quinn and Ogletree were apparently deemed expendable. Barron was not.

Barron’s inability to participate in offseason workouts with the younger linebackers was not a concern, Phillips said.

“When Mark gets back, I know he’s a leader,” Phillips said.

Though his heel is “up and down some days,” Barron said his physical condition was improving. The Rams are aiming for him to be ready for on-field activity “somewhere in the middle” of training camp, which begins July 26 at UC Irvine.

“I’m on track with where I’m supposed to be,” he said.

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