Mark Barron has earned the nickname Silent Killer.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie safety doesn't say much, but he gets everyone's attention when he makes a hit.
Barron epitomizes what head coach Greg Schiano likes to call "Buccaneer Men."
Schiano received a lot of criticism when he persuaded the Bucs to move up in the draft to take Barron and pass on heralded LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
It was argued correctly that you don't take safeties that early, particularly when cornerbacks are at premium and there is a Claiborne available. And then there is the Bucs' situation at cornerback, which was not good.
The rap on Barron was that he is not strong in pass coverage. It is an assessment that has been proven correct this year for the Bucs, who rank last in pass defense.
But that didn't matter to Schiano. Nothing outside of the One Buc Place matters to him.
He saw Barron as an assassin and, after watching last year's leaky-faucet defense, he became a priority.
Barron has played a part in the Bucs' poor defense, but he also is a reason Tampa Bay ranks first in run defense. He is an intimidator who is third on the team with 45 solo tackles and you can't help but envision him getting better.
Schiano can put up with Barron's struggles in pass coverage, particularly after reviewing tape of last year's 10-game losing streak to end the season with all those missed tackles.
"I don't know what the mentality was like here last year, but we don't like losing," Barron said. "No
one here likes to lose, including me. We are coming out fighting every week trying to do the best we can. We make mistakes, but try to get the job done. The nickname, yeah I like it. People called me something like in college (at Alabama)."
Barron is a poster child for why Schiano has turned heads this season, leading the Bucs into Carolina today with a 5-4 record and chance to become a legitimate playoff contender.
Schiano's unwavering commitment to discipline is a major reason the Bucs are one of the NFL's surprise teams.
He preaches ball security as if the world turned on its axis. Turnover margin determines success. The Bucs were last in the NFL with a minus-16 turnover ratio in their 4-12 debacle last season. This year they are a plus-11.
You can overcome porous defenses and struggling offenses with takeaways, and the Bucs are third in the NFL with 15 interceptions. The Baltimore Ravens are a perfect example. In 2004, '06 and '08 they were plus-11, plus-15 and plus-13 in turnovers and were 9-7, 13-3 and 11-5. In '05 and 07, they were minus-10 and minus-17 and were 6-10 and 5-11.
In '05 New Orleans was -24 in TO margin and 3-13. The next year the Saints they were a plus-7 and improved their record to 10-6.
"The turnover margin is the most correlated stat to winning, and we have to make sure we keep ending up on the plus side," Schiano said. "Our guys have done a good job, especially with timely interceptions. We need to continue to make them because without them (turnovers) we are not playing good enough defense to win games."
Many turnover pundits say much of it is based on luck. Studies have shown teams down one year are up the next in turnover margin. Looking at how Philip Rivers threw a pick right into the hands of Leonard Johnson last week might support that argument.
A team can't control takeaways, but it can control to a greater extent the turnovers it commits, and that's where the Bucs have shined.
Only two running backs with more than 170 carries have no fumbles; Houston's Arian Foster with 222 and Tampa's Doug Martin with 173.
The Bucs' Vincent Jackson, who leads the league in yards per catch (21.6), and teammate Mike Williams (18.3 avg.), have not fumbled despite a combined 67 catches, which is the best two-man receiver tandem in the NFL.
Tampa's Josh Freeman has fumbled six times, but lost only one, which is the best recovery rate in the NFL for quarterbacks. In his last four games, he has thrown for more than 1,100 yards with 10 TDs and no interceptions. Nine of the top 10 teams in the NFL in turnover ratio have winning records with Washington the odd team out. The others: Patriots, Bears, Giants, Bucs, Texans, Falcons, Ravens, Packers and 49ers.
While Schiano has been ridiculed by some for his rigidness, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy credits the head coach and his staff for being flexible and making in game adjustments at the request of the defense line.
"There are times where we felt we should be going this way (straight at the offensive line) instead of that way (stunting) and asked the coaches to change. They did and it helped, particularly against Phillip Rivers (last game)," McCoy said.
The stuff you have to love about Schiano is that he never gets too high or too low and knows how fleeting success or failure can be in the NFL.
His philosophy is winning doesn't necessarily mean you are better, and it often hides deficiencies. But he can't argue it is something the Bucs' long-suffering fan base is enjoying.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.