Bucs CB Ronde Barber's career totals include 23 interceptions and 18 sacks...and now two Pro Bowl invites
At first glance they read like the statistics of an outside linebacker: 92 tackles, three interceptions, three sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, nine tackles for loss and 11 passes defensed. We tell you that's the 2004 stat line of one particular Tampa Bay Buccaneer and you say Ian Gold, maybe Derrick Brooks.
Those numbers do not belong to a linebacker, however, so surely they are the work of a blitzing safety, maybe Dwight Smith or Jermaine Phillips. Right?
Guess again. We're not here to diminish the efforts of those four players; all of them have had excellent 2004 seasons in their own right. But that chock-full stat line belongs to a cornerback, and that cornerback is Ronde Barber.
Cornerback isn't necessarily the position at which a player accomplishes so many things. In some defenses, they are confined mostly to interceptions, passes defensed and the occasional tackle. But the Bucs ask Barber to do it all, and he is more than happy – and able – to oblige.
He is, in fact, the only Buccaneer this season who has made a mark in each of the __ defensive categories compiled by the team: tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and passes defensed. That's something that only one or two Tampa Bay defenders accomplishes each year – he and Simeon Rice were the only two last year – and Barber has now done it in four of the last five seasons.
Barber, who this past week was tabbed to appear in his second Pro Bowl, has been a terror both on the playing field and in the record books since assuming a starting role in 1998. That year, he led al Buccaneer cornerbacks in both tackles (68) and passes defensed (17). In 1999, Barber posted a then career-best 74 tackles before leading all NFC defensive backs with 5.5 sacks in 2000. In 2001, he tied for the NFL lead and set a new Buccaneer record with 10 interceptions. And so on. It would be easy to continue rattling off statistic after statistic, but we'll conserve our space and your time. Suffice it to say he has been deserving of the Pro Bowl at least twice, and probably more.
But his statistical impact hasn't been limited to just the Bucs' record book. He is close to joining a very exclusive NFL club, and opening a new wing.
With career totals that include 23 interceptions and 18 sacks, Barber is close to becoming the seventh 20/20 player in league history. The only six players with 20 interceptions and 20 sacks are LeRoy Butler, Rodney Harrison, Ray Lewis, Seth Joyner, Wilber Marshall and William Thomas. Take another look at that list. No cornerbacks.
Despite that countdown, Barber would rather add to the former total than the latter.
"Sacks are kind of special, but at this point I'd still rather have an interception," said Barber. "A defensive back always wants interceptions, but I've made my mark getting sacks so I don't mind doing that either."
Barber is particularly adept at blitzing out of the slot when the Bucs are in a nickel defense, partially because he is good at disguising his intentions and making his move right at the snap. Since he can do so many things, opposing coordinators have to account for him, though not necessarily in the way they would have accounted for Deion Sanders in his prime. Barber's game is about being an all-around player, and getting better at it all the time.
"I try to be as complete a player as possible – that's what I practice for and work for every day," said Barber. "If I feel like one area of my game is lacking, that's what I try to work on. I don't ever try to do one thing – I want to do all sorts of things very well."
As the results of the Pro Bowl balloting indicate, the rest of the league has taken notice of Barber's many contributions to the Bucs' defense. Barring injury, it looks as though he will record over 100 tackles for the second consecutive year; his 118 last year set a new record for Tampa Bay defensive backs. Barber has already reached the 90 tackle plateau in 2004, the fifth consecutive season he has done so.
This time, he'll be joined in Honolulu by his twin brother, New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, also selected for the all-star game.
"The first time I went to the Pro Bowl [in 2001] I was pretty locked in," said Barber. "It was a pretty done deal – if you get 10 interceptions, you're pretty sure that you're going to go. After two or three years of coming in second place I played well enough to go this year, so this one's a little bit special. I also get to go see Tiki – it'll be a nice family trip for us."
Against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Barber and the rest of the Buccaneer secondary must be at their best. Jake Delhomme and the suddenly high-powered Panther passing attack have been giving opponents fits as of late. In just one season, the focus of the Carolina offense has shifted from the legs of now-injured running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster to the arm of Delhomme and the hands of Muhsin Muhammad.
"Carolina is very good in the passing game – I think that's been a huge part of their turnaround," said Barber. "Stopping that falls on our shoulders. We pride ourselves on being the best secondary in the league, and if you look at it in that regard that's where the match up for this game falls. If we play well as a defensive backfield we'll win this game – that's our focus every week. It doesn't change for Carolina or anyone else."