During predraft discussions about Alabama S Mark Barron, among the attributes checked off in the plus column was his ability to shadow the NFC South's big, fast tight ends.
At 6 feet 1, 214 pounds, this year's first-round pick of the Bucs is big enough to cover the Saints' Jimmy Graham (6-7, 265) — out of today's game with an ankle injury — the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez (6-5, 248) and the Panthers' Greg Olsen (6-5, 255).
"You get them on a 5-8 guy, there's no doubt where that ball is going," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.
For many seasons, when linebackers were ineffective in covering tight ends, some of that duty fell to 5-10 S Ronde Barber.
"It's what … the position has turned into," Barber said. "They do jump balls. Without a doubt, tight ends were always there and used as receivers. But these guys, especially guys like Jimmy, they are receivers. They're big wideouts, really. They all can split out, and you can run three-receiver formations with them."
Barron is off to a terrific start. He's third on the team in tackles with 35, including two for losses, with one interception (last week) and one forced fumble. In the Bucs' opener, Olsen caught six passes for 56 yards but no touchdowns.
"I think he's a considerably better safety right now just because he understands things better. He's playing faster," Schiano said. "But he played some good football opening day, too.
"I think Mark is on that kind of climb that you like as a coach: steady. He keeps getting better, more confident in what he's doing."
Barron doesn't anticipate any problems with the likes of Graham in the future.
"I'm an athletic guy, and I have good size," he said. "He's got a little advantage on me as far as his height, but I don't see anything other than that."
FINDING FREEMAN: QB Josh Freeman took a big step in his development in the offense of first-year coordinator Mike Sullivan last week, throwing for 328 yards (second most of his career) and three touchdowns.
But Freeman, in his fourth season, still is learning how to let go, trust his preparation, grip and rip.
"A lot of times, there's so much stuff that goes into each play," he said. "Overthinking? I think it's kind of misused. But at the same time, yes. When you're thinking a lot and you're not playing freely and not just going out and playing with confidence, I think you're limiting yourself.
"There are times when you're wanting to do the perfect thing on every play when all you have to do is relax; just get the ball in the playmaker's hands."
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Freeman on today's game being on local TV: "Unfortunately, I'll be busy. I won't have a chance to watch."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.