TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mark Barron isn't big on either talking or dwelling on what might have been.

Alabama's not-so-chatty All-American safety might have been a first-round NFL draft pick after his junior season but for a torn pectoral muscle. If he could have lifted his right arm, he might have prevented a long third-quarter touchdown pass against eventual national champion Auburn in a one-point loss.

"I felt like I wasn't sure I made the right decision by staying in the game,'' Barron said. ``It was frustrating. I've thought about it, but I try to leave it in the past. I try not to dwell on it too much."

Barron admits he "probably" would have declared for the NFL draft if he hadn't sustained the injury that required surgery and kept him out of the Capital One Bowl. But he says he doesn't replay in his head that touchdown catch by Terrell Zachery when Barron appeared to be in position to at least break up the pass or make the tackle.

"I'm 100 percent sure it wouldn't have been a touchdown," Barron, who was injured late in the first half, said. "I don't know exactly what would have happened - interception, tackle - but it wouldn't have been a touchdown."

That might be a painful memory for Alabama fans, but they had something to celebrate when Barron decided not to follow fellow juniors Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus into the NFL draft.

If he had, the Crimson Tide might have had a fifth first-round pick, but the defense would now be without its most accomplished player, team captain and quiet leader. He was a second-team AP All-American last season and a third-teamer in 2009, earning first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors both times.

He kind of keeps to himself, he's not a big guy that likes to be around a lot of people.
-- Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower on Mark Barron

But Barron is mostly the strong, silent type. He does interviews fairly infrequently and is hardly loquacious when he does, reminiscent of former teammate and current Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain.

"Mark's my cousin but that's exactly how he is all the time,'' linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. ``He kind of keeps to himself, he's not a big guy that likes to be around a lot of people. It's kind of like how Rolando was. He kind of keeps to himself and watches film all the time. That's just how he is."

Hightower calls him perhaps the team's most respected player because of his on-the-field achievements but also "the way he knows the play book."

"The way we all come to him whenever we have a question about a coverage or a play. He's always there,'' Hightower said. "Even when coach (Nick) Saban's not there, coach Saban goes to Mark and talks to Mark about some things. Mark will confirm it with us. It's always good having Mark back there."

It's a surprising position for Barron in some ways. He was listed as an athlete coming out of Saint Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile and said he was also recruited as a tight end, linebacker, running back and wide receiver.

Saban told Barron he thought safety would be his natural position, but it was a learning process for a player with scant experience at the position. He was more notable as a high school linebacker on defense or as a 1,000-yard rusher who turned 12 of his 23 catches as a junior into touchdowns.

Barron was still learning in the Sugar Bowl, when he got turned around and gave up a second-quarter touchdown pass against Utah.

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"It brings a smile to my face to think about recruiting Mark,'' Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. ``I can remember recruiting him and telling him once he mastered this defense, that he was going to be a great player, and that has happened. The first year, he was still learning it"

"I can remember the Utah game when we stuck him in there. One of the first plays he went in, we ended up giving up a touchdown pass. He was so disappointed in himself because he had worked so hard to play that dime position."

Barron then had seven interceptions as a sophomore on the Tide's national championship team. And last season, he was a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award given to the nation's top defensive back.

"Mark is such a great kid, and to see how far he has come now, how much success he has had ... I'm excited for Mark,'' Smart said. ``He is a great person. Although he is not a vocal leader, trust me, they all listen when he speaks and they all watch when he practices."