Before he shadows NFL receivers this fall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie safety Mark Barron is making a habit of clinging tightly to a veteran teammate.
A first-round draft pick out of Alabama noted for keen football intelligence, Barron is clever enough to study the work habits of Ronde Barber, who is shifting to safety after an accomplished 15-year NFL career at cornerback.
Tampa Bay's intriguing safety tandem already has formed a strong bond early in training camp and new coordinator Bill Sheridan can't camouflage his excitement about the club's last line of defense.
"Ronde understands the principles of football so well and we couldn't have a better situation as far as a guy like Mark being with a guy like Ronde,'' Sheridan said. "Mark's a real smart kid coming from a great system and Ronde's doing the majority of our orchestrating back there. There's a nice little chemistry developing between the two.''
Barron, 22, never seems to wander out of shouting range of the 37-year-old Barber, who earned five Pro Bowl berths on a proud defensive unit that was ravaged often last season.
"I want to play and I want to win,'' Barber said. "It's not often you get to find new challenges in your 16th year, new opportunities to prove yourself.''
Barber, 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, has relied on masterful preparation skills to compensate for average size and speed by NFL standards.
At 6-2 and 213 pounds, Barron packs a wallop, forging a highlight-tape collection of big hits while winning two national championships with the Crimson Tide.
"Sometimes I just sit back and watch Ronde to pick up some of the things he knows,'' said Barron, who couldn't wait to strap on the pads two days into camp. "There isn't too much in this league Ronde Barber hasn't seen. When I ask him for help, he usually has a good answer for me.''
Secondary coach Ron Cooper heard all about Barber's attention to detail before he joined the Bucs from LSU.
"I'm in shock and awe at the way Ronde carries himself,'' Cooper said. "He's totally about team. I've had guys who were fifth-year seniors who didn't think they had to take notes in meetings.''
The Bucs were eager to add a thumper like Barron in the secondary after finishing last in NFL rushing defense last season. He led Alabama with 75 tackles in 2010 and ranked second last year with 68 stops, many of the jarring variety.
Barber has provided solid run support since becoming a starter in 1998.
Some pro scouts questioned Barron's coverage skills at Alabama and he can't wait to pick off his skeptics.
"I wasn't really tested that much after I intercepted seven passes my sophomore year,'' said Barron. "Not many quarterbacks came my way. All I know is I can fit in a lot of different schemes and I can play pass defense.''
Sheridan has already been won over.
"The other day we had a deep ball thrown down one of the sides of the field and Barron sure covered a lot of ground in a hurry,'' Sheridan said. "The kid's got great range. He's going to have his hands on a lot of balls.''
Barron arrived in Tampa with a reputation as an aggressive player. It didn't take long before he found himself in an altercation with 303-pound defensive tackle Brian Price, a former second-round pick traded to Chicago last week.
"I can't discuss that,'' Barron said.
"No, but I can't discuss it.''
Fifth-year corner Aqib Talib is convinced Barron will make an instant impact.
"He's an NFL-ready dude,'' Talib said. "He killed the conditioning test. He's serious and he's ready. Some people grow up faster than other people. That boy, he's grown. He's ready.''