By Michael Casagrande,firstname.lastname@example.org
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- From a potential backup to one of the national interception leaders, Alabama's Mark Barron is putting together a nice sophomore season.
First, he beat out Robby Green for the starting safety job. Known initially as one of the harder hitting defensive backs around, Barron is developing a reputation as a "ball-hawking guy," coach Nick Saban said.
His two interceptions Saturday at Mississippi State pushed his season total to six -- tops in the SEC and third nationally. The success is just part of the master plan, although he's not too proud to admit some of his interceptions required some degree of luck.
"My goal was to be one of the best, and I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of trying to get there," Barron said. "I'm happy to see my name where it is."
Frustrated about his lack of production as a freshman playing mostly special teams in 2008, Barron got his head straight in time for preseason practices. He then separated himself from Green to lock in the job vacated by Rashad Johnson.
Since then, he's done a lot more than make the crushing blows he was known for before the season. That doesn't mean he's focusing solely on interceptions. Barron ranks second on the team in total tackles with 60, behind only Rolando McClain's 77, and is tied for second in pass break-ups (9) with Kareem Jackson.
Not bad for a player who got almost zero playing time defensively before his senior year at St. Paul's High School in Mobile. Barron estimated he played no more than 20 snaps of defense before his final season that ended in a Class 5A state championship. He played linebacker and "some safety" in a senior season that included important questions about his future.
As one of the top recruits in the state and nation, he was best known for his rushing and pass-catching skills. His college decision rested on the reputation Saban had for developing quality defensive players.
"For a long time, people have been telling me I was a natural safety," he said. "I talked to Coach Saban about it, and he felt like probably would be my best position. I mean, he felt like I could have played and been good at any position that I would have picked, but he felt like safety probably would be my best position."
Making the full-time move to the defensive backfield meant extra studying for Saban's complex system.
McClain said he respects the time Barron invested to become on of the best at his position
"Mark Barron works real hard," McClain said. "There's no surprise to me that he's had so much success, because he works hard. Coach (Kirby) Smart has done a good job of coaching him up, and he's done a good job."
One of the benefits of his big season was congratulatory conversations with Johnson, now a backup with the Arizona Cardinals. His few conversations with the player he replaced "meant a lot," Barron said, because of the success Johnson had in the Crimson Tide backfield.