As the Buccaneers considered who to take with their top-five draft pick this past spring and eventually homed in on Alabama safety Mark Barron, they took into account the proliferation of big, pass-catching tight ends around the NFL, and in the NFC South in particular. The Bucs know they’ll be facing the likes of Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Greg Olsen twice a season each, and that creates some specific matchup issues.
“It certainly was part of our discussions when we were talking about Mark Barron because when you look in our division we have three of them, so we play one every time we play a divisional game,” said Head Coach Greg Schiano. “We had Game One with Carolina’s Olsen and now we’re stepping up to number two (Graham) and then we’ll get Gonzalez somewhere down the road. No doubt there are matchup considerations there for sure. You get them on a 5-8 guy there’s not a real lot of doubt where the ball is going.”
Barron is 6-2 and 215 pounds, and he’s got the speed, size and aggressive mentality to compete in the forest of these tall and athletic tight ends. This Sunday, he’ll draw at least a part of the assignment of stopping arguably the most dangerous one in the league right now, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham. The 6-7, 260-pound Graham is only tied for sixth among NFL tight ends so far this year with 25, but in 2011 he put up a stunning line of 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.
That’s a sizeable challenge for the Bucs’ rookie safety, but in addition to his size and skills he has one other factor working in his favor: confidence.
“As far as it being a matchup problem, with me covering him I don’t think it is a problem,” said Barron. “I’m an athletic guy and I have good size so I don’t feel like that’s a matchup problem. He’s got a little advantage on my as far as height, but I don’t really see anything other than that.”
It’s worth noting that Graham is the one player on the Saints’ injury report who is questionable heading into the weekend (LB David Hawthorne has already been ruled out), following a Week Five ankle injury against San Diego. Saints QB Drew Brees is obviously hoping his top target from 2011 is available on Sunday, but he has always been quite adept at working with whatever weapons are at his disposal.
“I hope so; we’ll see,” said Brees, when asked if Graham was likely to play. “He’s obviously a big part of what we do. He’s a big-time matchup problem for teams. Certainly teams have to have a plan for him. He’s one of the go-to guys. We’ve got a lot of guys that really fit well into this offense. But if for some reason he’s not, we’ll manage. You adjust the game plan accordingly and the train rolls on.”