Buccaneer corners Ronde Barber (20) and Donnie Abraham (21) have rightfully earned reputations as big-play makers
On Monday afternoon, CB Donnie Abraham joined his defensive teammates in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers meeting room where, instead of the usual light jog, they formed their collective Pro Bowl ballot for the NFC offensive squad.
Down the hall, the offensive Buc players did the same thing for the other side of the ball. Their ballot will include Abraham's name, and that of the Bucs' other starting corner, Ronde Barber, but they won't be casting any votes for those two. Players and coaches cannot vote for players on their own teams.
"If I could, I'd vote for them," said two-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch. "I think the equation that you have to look at it is not only all the plays that those guys make, but what we ask our corners to do. We ask them not only to cover, we ask them to do a lot. Ronde does a lot of blitzing. Both of them have to do a ton of tackling with all of the 'Cover Two' (defensive alignment) that we play. So I think for what we ask our corners to do, and what types of years those guys have had, in terms of making big plays, they're both very deserving."
The question is, will Abraham get the support he needs in other NFL meeting rooms across the country? Player and coach votes make up two thirds of the league's Pro Bowl selection process, weighed against a collective fan vote that has now been concluded.
Let's be clear – this is not a Pro Bowl endorsement of Abraham over any other Buccaneer player. There are dozens of Bucs who have put up seasons worthy of Pro Bowl consideration, and Tampa Bay has been fortunate to send 19 players to the NFL's all-star game in the last three years. The team would be delighted by another large contingent.
Abraham's situation pops to mind, however, because on Sunday he once again did what he does best and on Monday the NFL released the results of its online balloting for the Pro Bowl.
Six Buccaneers led the NFC at their positions, but Abraham was not among them. Fullback Mike Alstott, guard Randall McDaniel, center Jeff Christy, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, outside linebacker Derrick Brooks and strong safety John Lynch were the top conference vote-getters at their positions, which is excellent news for Buccaneers fans, who also had the opportunity to vote in person at Raymond James Stadium and at area promotions. Those votes were not included in Monday's released information.
Abraham actually did quite well in the online tally at cornerback, coming in fifth with 52,075 votes. Washington's Champ Bailey had a sizeable hold on first place (82,820), but the next four spots were quite crowded. Abraham's deserving teammate, Ronde Barber was second with 60,081, followed by New York's Jason Sehorn (59,962), Washington's Deion Sanders (56,726) and Abraham. The rest of the list was well behind.
The Bucs are hopeful that Barber will draw enough support in the rest of the balloting to earn his first trip to Honolulu. Barber has 84 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one interception, 16 passes defensed and two defensive touchdowns. Does Abraham have the numbers to join him?
Consider this: after snaring his 25th career interception on Sunday in Miami, Abraham now has more interceptions in his first five NFL seasons than Sanders did through his first five, highly-publicized, years. More than Rod Woodson or Darrell Green, for that matter. He has one less interception through five seasons than six-time Pro Bowler Aeneas Williams, but Abraham has two more games this season to catch that Cardinal great.
What Abraham also has is the full package, according to Barber. "He just seems to be in the right places," said his CB partner. "And when he gets the opportunity, he catches the ball. He never seems to drop the interceptions. To me, he's a classic interceptor. When the ball's coming his way, it's just what he does."
That doesn't automatically mean he's headed to the 50th state this February. Abraham tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last year with seven but didn't join Alstott, Brooks, Lynch, Sapp, C Tony Mayberry and LB Hardy Nickerson as Buccaneer representatives. Abraham again has seven interceptions this year, one off the league lead, and has clearly emerged as one of the league's best cover men.
"It's hard to say," said Head Coach Tony Dungy of Abraham's Pro Bowl chances. "I've never been able to quite figure out how people vote for the Pro Bowl. It's really hard. I think Donnie's had a great year, but you never know."
Against Miami, Abraham snared his seventh interception on perhaps the least acrobatic-looking of the Bucs' four picks on the day. That was misleading. Abraham's play was actually extremely difficult, perhaps impossible for some players.
On the play, speedy Dolphins receiver Tony Martin started to run a fly up the sideline, with Abraham on his left hip. Suddenly, Martin button-hooked back and towards the sideline, and Abraham spun with him, never losing his tight coverage. That 'speed turn,' as the Bucs' coaches call it, allowed Abraham to step in front of Jay Fiedler's timing pass and make a juggling catch while keeping both feet in bounds.
Abraham was tackled by Martin immediately, so there was no opportunity for a high-step into the end zone. Abraham most likely would not have done that, anyway, as he is almost as non-demonstrative on the field as he is quiet off it. Perhaps a lack of showmanship is the only weakness in his game, as it relates to the Pro Bowl.
"He's quiet," said Barber. "He's not flashy. To tell you the truth, I don't even know how much he cares about what people think of him, so it doesn't matter what the Pro Bowl people say. He's definitely a Pro Bowl corner, there's no doubt about it. If anybody deserves to go in the league, it's him."
Barber still downplays his own chances, but there's no doubt that he has earned his own reputation as a big-play maker. He didn't have any of the Bucs' four picks in Miami, but he twice knocked away sure touchdown passes from 6-foot-2 Dolphins receiver Oronde Gadsden. When the Dolphins had to settle for a pair of field goals after those deflections, Barber had basically saved the Bucs' eight points in an eventual three-point victory.
Both Ronde and his twin brother, Tiki, a running back for the New York Giants, have had breakout seasons. "Who knows?" said Barber of his Pro Bowl chances "That's what's happened when you have a twin brother. It brings a lot of attention to your name. I would take it graciously, I guess."
Will he get the opportunity for a humble acceptance? Will Abraham get his due? We'll find out on Thursday afternoon, when the Pro Bowl squads are announced.