Veteran CB Ronde Barber has met many challenges during his Buccaneer career but is excited by the latest one
Like most of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates, Ronde Barber was a hard worker this spring during the team's 14-week offseason training program.
According to Head Coach Raheem Morris, Barber was also an angry worker. And Morris meant that in a good way.
Morris, who has seen how Barber works since 2002, when the former was a Buc assistant, wasn't putting too fine a point on it. Tampa Bay's all-time interceptions leader wasn't raging around the practice field like a poker player on tilt, nor was he a deficient worker in years past. But Morris couldn't help but notice that Barber seemed to have something to prove this offseason.
The genesis may have been that difficult day in February when the Buccaneers released five veteran players, including longtime defensive standout Derrick Brooks. If that appeared to be a youth movement – that wasn't the point, but some certainly interpreted it that way – than why was Barber still around?
The obvious answer, as Morris articulated early this spring, is that Barber is still the same playmaker he has been for the Buccaneers for the past dozen years. If there is suddenly some doubt about that fact, that is only fuel to drive one of the most impactful defensive players of the past decade.
"Ronde's been one of those guys that's probably been doubted his whole career," said Morris, almost laughing at the thought of Barber still being doubted. "He was a third-round pick and now he's the Buccaneers' all-time leader in interceptions. He's…the only cornerbacks to have 20/20 sacks and interceptions [in his career]. Any time you doubt a guy like that, you're calling him out. He's focused, he's locked in and he's right exactly where he needs to be."
Barber has been just where the Buccaneers have needed him since 1998, his second year in the league. After a rookie season spent mostly learning the system, Barber started picking off passes and scoring touchdowns in his second year and he hasn't stopped since. He has had at least two interceptions every year for 11 straight seasons – including a team-high (tied) four in 2008 – and he has scored 12 TDs in regular-season play, among the most in NFL history for a defender. As Morris mentioned, Barber is the only cornerback in league annals to have amassed at least 20 interceptions and 20 sacks.
And he went to his fifth Pro Bowl just this past February.
In other words, on a defense that is admittedly looking for new starting contributions at several spots – including both outside linebacker spots, one defensive end, one defensive tackle, one cornerback and possibly one safety – Barber is one of the closest things the Bucs have to a sure thing.
Even the defensive system is new. That actually could affect Barber's effectiveness, but it likely will not because the dedicated corner has spent the offseason shaping his game to fit Jim Bates schemes. As comfortable as he was in the Monte Kiffin-engineered system that he has played in since he came into the league, Barber has actually welcomed the change.
"If you're competitive, and I think everybody knows that I am, you look forward to the challenge," he said. "I'm looking forward to learning something new. I feel like I've learned a lot more about football trying to pick up a new system than I ever did before, which is unique. When you've been with a team as long as I have and been able to play under Monte for so long, there's a comfort level, but this is a new challenge and I'm excited about it."
There's a lot of excitement surrounding the Buccaneers' defense, the result of the past combining with the future. Tampa Bay is known for its defense, and was still quite effective for most of 2008, the last of Kiffin's 13 years with the team. Buccaneer fans expect that tradition to be maintained, and the team's staff and players agree, but it will be done in a new way. Barber, who should be in the middle of the transition, is looking forward to making it work.
"We're learning," he said. "It's a whole new system on both sides of the ball. I was mentioning to somebody the other day, if they came to the Bucs' stadium this year and watched us wanting to see the old Buc defense, they wouldn't recognize it. It's going to be a whole new scheme, a bunch of new players…we're just picking it up. We've got all of training camp to nail it down. Right now we're trying to climb up that learning curve."