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March 26, 2010TUSCALOOSA _ One would think that University of Alabama safety Mark Barron could be doing double-takes during spring practices.
He looks up and sees No. 28, only it's not Javier Arenas but true freshman DeMarcus Milliner. No. 10 is no longer linebacker Jerrell Harris (he switched back to No. 5), but fellow newcomer John Fulton. B.J. Scott doesn't have to share No. 1 with Chris Rogers.
Suddenly, the third-year player isn't just the old guy of the secondary, but essentially the only returning player from the two-deep depth chart due to Robby Green's eligibility being in doubt. Dre Kirkpatrick played in 12 games last season and may be the odds-on favorite to land a starting cornerback job, but it's otherwise a total overhaul.
"We've been around each other a while now," Barron said. "Even the new guys that came in have been here for a while so I'm getting pretty used to it.
"They're coming along. It's a complicated system that we have."
To put it into perspective, gone are Arenas, Kareem Jackson, Justin Woodall, Marquis Johnson, Ali Sharrief, Tyrone King and Chris Rogers.
Except for Arenas missing South Carolina due to bruised ribs, all seven played in every game last season. They combined to make 244 tackles, including 20 for a loss and 6? sacks, 11 interceptions, 41 passes broken up, 52 passes defended, 10 hurries and a recovered fumble.
However, Barron led the Southeastern Conference with seven interceptions and tied Johnson for the most passes defended with 17. Factor in his 76 tackles, which was second on the Tide behind only Rolando McClain's 101, and it's easy to see why was named a third-team All-American.
But now he has a new responsibility (in addition getting more reps at star after playing the money role during obvious passing situations last season).
This is clearly his unit.
That means everything from showing the up-and-comers how to prepare and help them try to translate what they learn in he meeting room to the field, to making sure everyone lines up correctly.
"Last year I had to make some of the calls, but I didn't have to make every call it seems like," Barron said. "Now I have to make all of the calls and help them out. So my job is a little bit harder but I don't mind.
"I would rather lead by example, but I can't really do that right now so I have to step out of myself a little."
In terms of potential, the unit could potentially, and eventually, be lights out. Barron and Robert Lester, who has been his tandem partner at free safety, were both four-star recruits in 2008 when Scott was a five-star addition.
This past class, Milliner was a five-star signee and Fulton a four-star, with both already obviously on campus. Three other four-star additions, Dequan Menzie, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams, and three-star prospect Deion Belue won't arrive until the summer.
Factor in Kirkpatrick, a five-star signee in 2009, and many feel this unit may already be more talented than the group that just left.
"Yeah, in my opinion it is," Barron said. "At the same time, if they don't learn we won't be a better defense. The main thing that we have to do now is learn."
And grow up, as quickly as possible.
With Alabama playing for the national championship the coaching staff was able to get a jump start on things during bowl preparation, especially with the defensive backs. So far it seems to have carried over to the spring.
"I'm very pleased with Mark Barron, who's kind of taken the bull by the horns a little bit," Coach Nick Saban said.