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Versatile LB Mark Barron could fill needed role on Broncos' defense

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos try to challenge the Chiefs in the AFC West, they added a player Sunday that may help them slow down one of Kansas City's biggest weapons.

Veteran linebacker Mark Barron joined the Broncos at practice on Monday, and the 2012 seventh-overall pick could be a resource for the team, particularly in pass coverage. Barron played safety during the better part of his first three seasons of his career before transitioning to inside linebacker with the then-Saint Louis Rams.

"Obviously, I have a lot of experience playing that coverage role and covering tight ends at linebacker," Barron said Monday. "If that's what they need me to do, I definitely feel like I can get that job done. As far as my playing safety and playing linebacker over the years, I think it's really just a knowledge thing where I've played in a bunch of different roles and I'm a pretty versatile guy, a flexible guy, so I can do a number of things for the defense if asked to do those things. I think just that flexibility is where I can help out at."

After more than four seasons with the Rams, Barron spent one season with Steelers, where he posted an interception, a fumble recovery, three passes defensed, three sacks and 82 tackles in nine starts in 2019.

Barron was released by Pittsburgh earlier this year, but he was told it was unrelated to his play.

"Somebody had to go because they had to save money somewhere," Barron said. "It just ended up being me. It was communicated to me. It wasn't a play thing where my play wasn't good enough. It was just a cap situation."

Now in Denver, Barron will try to carve out a role with just two weeks remaining before the team's regular-season opener. With rookie Justin Strnad out for the season with a wrist injury and Todd Davis still battling a calf injury, it's possible he could see early reps.

"We're going to find out," said Head Coach Vic Fangio when asked where Barron fits on the team's defense. "… [President of Football Operations/General Manager] John [Elway] wanted to be proactive with that [position] in light of us losing Strnad and Todd with his calf injury. We were getting a little thin there. He's obviously been a good player in the league. He's a guy that we'll see how he can fit in. He's obviously got a lot to learn in a short period of time, but we'll see."

Barron, who has nine career interceptions and 42 career pass breakups, said he's willing to fulfill whatever role the team thinks is best.

"I wouldn't necessarily say I expect to have any [particular] role," Barron said. "Obviously, I'm going to do what they ask me to do. I would assume that they want me to help in some coverage aspects, as far as covering tight ends and running backs. I'm taking this thing a day at a time. I have a whole defensive playbook to learn. It's a lot. I'm just taking it one day at a time and trying to get familiar with what we want to do here."

LESSONS TO LEARN

Two days after the Broncos' offense struggled at times during Saturday's practice at Empower Field at Mile High, Fangio seemingly remains encouraged by the play of quarterback Drew Lock.

"There was obviously some stuff from the other day's practice at the stadium that will be good learning experiences for him as it was for our whole team," Fangio said. "I like where he's at. I think it was good the other night to go down there and do that work, get in the stadium, get in the big-league park, although there's not fans, but the crowd noise kind of made it feel real. I like where he's at. We'll see how it goes."

Fangio said he believes the offense's progression toward being an explosive unit is "coming together at its own little pace."

"[Wide receiver] Jerry [Jeudy]'s still learning the offense, learning playing in the NFL, learning going against the different coverages that he'll see in the NFL," Fangio said. "In [wide receiver KJ] Hamler's case, he hasn't been out there very much recently. It's hard to say. I do think the final product eventually will look good with those two guys and the guys we already had and Drew at quarterback. I'm optimistic, but we've hit a detour here that we're going to have to get back on track [from]."

MAKING THE MOST OF THEIR TIME

Like every other team in the NFL, the Broncos are working to prepare for their Week 1 game without the benefit of the normal preseason schedule. As August ends, the Broncos will mix in normal training camp practices with work that will help them prepare for early-season opponents. 

"It's a juggling of the limited time here with all the things you want to get done," Fangio said. "Today's practice was more of a preparation for the season. Then we'll have a practice or two this week that are going to look more like a training camp practice. We're moving back and forth and trying to manipulate that fine line."

As guard Dalton Risner pointed out, though, this isn't a problem that's unique to the Broncos.

"The good news is that every team had to do the same thing," Risner said. "We're not sitting here saying, 'Are we going to get as many reps together?' Do we wish we had more reps? Yes. Do we wish we would've had OTAs to work into this, to ease into this, to ease into [having] a new offensive coordinator, getting brand new offensive linemen on the team and on the starting five? Of course we do. Of course we wish we had more time to do this and to ease into it. We got thrown into the fire, we threw pads on and we're rocking and rolling. We did install, we're going. [We had] a lot of time to meet over the phone and Zoom and do all of that over OTAs, but that's not football. That's a mind deal. That's just not the game of football. Things speed up a little bit, more than a Zoom call when you put the pads on. I think that every team has had the same situation, so we have to make the most of it. I do think we're going to be ready. Maybe it's not about being 100 percent ready like you would be if you had OTAs, a full camp and full preseason games. Maybe it's about who is going to be the most ready out of this situation and the circumstances that we have."

WHAT YOU'D EXPECT

After playing just five games in his final two collegiate seasons, sixth-round pick Netane Muti has gotten plenty of work during training camp. The rookie, though, remains a work in progress on the offensive line.

"Muti's been good overall, up and down like you would expect from a guy who's a rookie and a rookie who's missed a lot of football … during his college career," Fangio said. "He's had flashes of good play and flashes of not so good play. He had a tough night the other [day] in practice. He would have given up a sack or two or at least a couple quarterback hits in the game. He's not where he needs to be obviously, but we like the player."

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