CB Ronde Barber has been accepted into the Bucs' legion of defensive playmakers
By Kevin Kaminksi, NFL Insider for NFL.com
You're nobody in the vaunted Tampa Bay defense until somebody - specifically, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin - designs a particular scheme in your honor.
So when Kiffin pegged a certain zone blitz for Ronde Barber this season, the fourth-year cornerback understood the ramifications. Embroiled in a training-camp battle for the starting job earlier in the summer, the former Virginia standout suddenly had earned his stripes.
"When they start naming defenses after you, that's when you know you've arrived on this unit," Barber says. "I guess this means Monte likes me a little bit."
What's not to like?
On a defense brimming with playmaker after playmaker, the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Barber manages to stand out. Two games into the season, Barber actually was tied for the NFC lead in sacks with 3½. Not only did that figure nearly match his career total of four, it forced offensive coordinators already losing sleep over the threats posed by defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks to account for a cornerback who was doing a mean Reggie White impersonation.
"He says [in meetings], 'Coach, I can beat that tackle - a 300-pound tackle,'" defensive backs coach Herman Edwards says. "We're sitting in the room and he's telling us he can beat this guy and we're like, 'Yeah, uh-huh. OK. We'll give you your shot.' And sure enough, he goes in there and beats them.
"And it's unique now because when he lines up over there, [the offense is] pointing at him. They're not even pointing at the linebackers. They're all pointing at him, making sure he's covered. That helps your defense."
"Warren started teasing me that I was getting a big head," Barber says of the sacks. "But let's be real. We know who is going to lead this team in sacks. I was just a product of the system for a while. When you have other people that everybody worries about, teams sometimes forget about little old me. So you sneak around a little bit, and next thing you know you're in their backfield."
Since the early quarterback assault, one that included a 2½-sack effort against the Bears, Barber has failed to add to his takedown total. His impact on the Bucs' defense, however, hardly has diminished. Already this season, Barber has twice found the end zone - once on a 24-yard fumble return against Chicago and again on a 37-yard interception return against the Jets.
The team's top tackler among defensive backs over the past two seasons, with 142 combined stops, Barber has emerged as one of the league's premier corners. But ask him about his contributions and the twin brother of New York Giants running back Tiki Barber points to a marquee support system.
"The defensive front is always getting pressure on the quarterback," Ronde Barber says. "It sounds cliché, but that's how you get turnovers. We can almost expect what a quarterback is going to do because of the intensity of the pass rush. If the blitz is coming, we know the ball is going to come out hot. So we'll sit on [a quarterback's] three-step drop. With this defense, the quarterback doesn't have time to sit around and look for a receiver to come free. He either needs to make a quick read or get sacked."
With the Bucs mired in a two-game losing streak, Barber and his teammates next must contend with unbeaten Minnesota - and twin terrors Randy Moss and Cris Carter in a crucial Monday night showdown. Barber said the key to any success against the Vikings is keeping their formidable wideout duo from hitting the big play.
But he also revels in the challenge - especially this season.
"I'm in the best shape of my life," Barber says. "I know this defense inside and out. It really makes a difference when you have that confidence. You don't go out there second-guessing your reads. When I step on the field, I don't feel like I'm going to get beat. I feel in complete control of my game."