TAMPA — Mark Barron will eventually connect with Bucs fans, but it won't be orally.
A gift for gab is not among his many talents. The former Alabama safety is quiet as church prayer.
In the jaw-jacking world of professional sports, that can be refreshing. But almost as soon as last month's first-round draft pick arrived in Tampa, it was obvious Barron disdains interviews and sees no reason to expand his responses into a few words when syllables will do.
"I am a serious guy. But, I mean, I can have fun," Barron said Saturday, the second day of the Bucs' rookie minicamp. "It ain't to the point where I can't have fun. I will talk. But I ain't the type when I walk into the room where I'm going to talk to everybody."
Though Barron might never be the mouthpiece for the team, he promises to dislodge a few.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pounder was a two-time captain of an Alabama defense that last season finished No. 1 in Division I-A in pass defense — allowing the fewest yards (111.5 average per game) and touchdowns (six) — and run defense — allowing the fewest yards (72.2 per game) and touchdowns (three).
As a sophomore, he led the SEC with seven interceptions. He was on the path to entering the draft after his junior season, during which he had three interceptions, before tearing his pectoral muscle during the final regular-season game.
As a senior, Barron posted 66 tackles but only two interceptions, primarily because he was rarely thrown at.
"At Alabama they just raved about the toughness and the type of mentality he brought to the team," Bucs player personnel director Dennis Hickey said.
Growing up in Mobile, Ala., that toughness was perhaps pounded into Barron during the countless games of football played in his grandmother's front yard. Sometimes, he said, the competition would spill into the streets, where they would play tackle with no pads.
"It was just a thing where we got bored, and we played where ever we could play," Barron said. "If it was out there in the street, that's where we played at. Sometimes you get a little intense, and people want to do this and that. So sometimes it ended up tackle in the streets."
Barron's talent — and reputation as the strong, silent type — was obvious at an early age. He started playing defensive line at age 6, and by the time he reached St. Paul's Episcopal School, he was called "Superman." During his junior year, in 2007, he won state titles in the shot put and triple jump.
St. Paul's coach Mike Bates, who played him at linebacker on defense and running back and receiver on offense, called Barron "the best football player I've ever seen" in 30 years of coaching.
Barron said the fertile recruiting grounds of Mobile produced good players and better competition. He was high school teammates with Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and defensive back Diego Barry; Mississippi State defensive back Louis Watson, and Destin Hood, a I-A prospect who chose baseball after being drafted in the second round by the Nationals in 2008.
"I think that just keeps pushing the level of the players that are coming out higher and higher," Barron said.
The Bucs, who allowed a franchise-worst 494 points in 2011 and were last in run defense at 156.1 yards per game, determined they needed more toughness in the middle, particularly in the secondary. Sitting with the No. 5 overall pick of the draft, they passed on LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, then traded down two spots to draft Barron while picking up a fourth-round pick.
"The player sold himself," Hickey said. "He is a player against the run and the pass. He brings a toughness. We wanted to become tougher, smarter and be improved tackling. We wanted to be able to get guys down and have a physical presence in the back end.
"And Mark, as we kept doing more and more research on him, he continued to check boxes, so to speak."
Barron's reticence to speak out got him in trouble last year, when he was arrested for hindering prosecution, a second-degree misdemeanor, in March 2011.
When police asked him how his car wound up wrecked and abandoned at 5 a.m. in Mobile, he said a man named "Bull" took it without permission. When police discovered the driver was Barron's cousin and gave him a chance to recant his statement, he clammed up and paid $500 to make bail.
The charge was eventually dismissed.
Communicating on the field has never been a problem for Barron, a two-time BCS national champion who made all the calls in the secondary for the complex schemes of coach Nick Saban.
"You can see it on tape. He's lining up guys," Hickey said. "When it comes to football, he's very communicative."
Sometimes, the talent speaks for itself.
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]