Ronde Barber has enjoyed the benefits of the Bucs' masterfully simple defensive system, as have many of his teammates
A saturated free agency market deprived cornerback Ronde Barber of the limo-and-dinner tour many free agents have taken before him, but it's just as well. That's not exactly Barber's scene.
Barber showed up at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room on Tuesday afternoon for what he figured would be a quick, low-key chat with the local press regarding his new six-year contract, agreed upon Monday and signed on Tuesday morning. Instead, he found himself behind a podium laden with microphones, a setup necessitated by a large showing of both writers and TV men.
Whether Barber wanted to look at it this way or not, his re-signing (and that of T Jerry Wunsch, who also met the press on Tuesday afternoon), was a big deal.
Barber's problem is not shyness. He is, in fact, a very good public speaker who might be interested in work in the broadcast field after his playing days have passed. He simply does not want to put himself above the team as a whole.
"I don't believe in anything 'big-time,'" said Barber. "I think all of you know that I'm a team guy and it's not all about me. It's about what I can do for the team. I'm definitely glad to be back."
By mid-March, a few weeks after becoming an unrestricted free agent, Barber wasn't sure the next group of press he'd be meeting would be in Tampa. As the market was flooded with quality players by cap-strapped teams, and the Buccaneers dipped into that pool for two big names in QB Brad Johnson and DE Simeon Rice, Barber realized that his hopes of returning might be taking a hit.
However, after the dust had settled on the Johnson and Rice signings and the atmosphere had calmed down somewhat at One Buc Place, Barber began to get feelers from the organization, an interest that both sides had hoped would be possible all along. The result, after about 10 days of amiable negotiations, was a six-year deal that kept everyone happy.
"I completely understand where this organization is coming from, wanting to bring me back for what they brought me back at. I'm just glad to be here. From this point on, I think I'm just going to look forward to it and try to get used to some of the new faces around here."
Luckily for Barber, much more of what he knows about One Buc Place has not changed. That includes the team's base defense under coordinator Monte Kiffin, a system in which he has excelled.
"We have a great system, a great coach," said Barber. "You come here and you know what you're going to get. You know what to look forward to, and that's a team that's dedicated to winning, a team that really doesn't beat around the bush with all the extra hype. We just like to go out and play football. That's the atmosphere that we've created and one that I'm glad to be back in. I'm glad Rich McKay and those guys didn't decide to give up on me and go get someone else."
Of course, Barber has to know that a team with McKay and Head Coach Tony Dungy in charge values continuity and stability above most other factors.
"The more guys that are familiar with what you do, the better you're going to be," said Dungy. "We feel good about that, that we will have some cohesiveness in the offensive line and in the secondary. We still might possibly be without (guard) Frank Middleton and (safety) Damien (Robinson), and that involves working some other guys in. But when you have your veteran guys back and your leaders back, that's very helpful."
Both Barber and Dungy talk about what the fifth-year cornerback can do for the team, not the other way around. The notion that Barber's unusually broad path of destruction in 2000 – 5.5 sacks, 97 tackles, two interceptions, 20 passes defensed, two touchdowns – was wholly a product of the Buccaneers' defensive scheme is one that does not originate inside One Buc Place. It's also an idea that Barber has clearly heard a few too many times.
"I'm a 'system cornerback' if you never looked at the film and never evaluated talent," said the former Virginia star. "I think some of this guys in this league look at what you did in the combine four years ago. If you look at my 40(-yard dash) time, it says I'm slow, but no one will ever take away the national championship I won in high school in track and field. I know I'm not slow and I know what type of ability I have.
"I work well in this system. Donnie (Abraham) works well in this system. John Lynch works great in this system. That's more of a credit to our coaches, that they know how to make a system for our guys to make plays in. If you want to call me a 'system corner' because of that, I'll be glad to be labeled that."
Whatever blend of talent and coaching has produced Barber's success, it is a mixture he is eager to retain. Since playing in just one game and making three tackles as a rookie, Barber has played in 48 games and started 40, amassing 239 tackles, six interceptions, three touchdowns, three forced fumbles, 53 passes defensed and 9.5 sacks. Obviously, he has been the team's most accomplished blitzer out of the secondary, and he developed a big-play reputation in his breakthrough 1998 season that was solidified last year. Only two defensive players in team history, DT David Logan and CB Mike Washington, had more career touchdowns than Barber's three. Logan and Washington had four each.
"What it came down to is, I'm comfortable here and I don't really want to take the risk of having to prove myself over and over again," Barber summated. "Looking at all the intangibles, this is the right place to be and I'm glad it worked out."