The hard work put in by Derek Hardman and Ryan Purvis on the practice field recently earned both players a promotion to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' active roster. Now two new young players will take their places on the Buccaneers' practice squad and begin working toward the same goal.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers pushed their practice squad back to the eight-man limit by signing two rookies, center/guard John Malecki and tight end Nathan Overbay. Both originally entered the NFL as undrafted free agents this past spring, Malecki with the Tennessee Titans and Overbay with the Denver Broncos.
Both players also briefly signed with a second team, Malecki moving on to Cleveland in mid-August and Overbay spending a week on Miami's practice squad in September.
The 6-2, 304-pound Malecki played in 40 games with 27 starts during his collegiate career at Pittsburgh, starting out at defensive tackle before switching to offense for his last two campaigns. In 2008 and 2009, he started 26 consecutive games at right guard, earning first-team All-Big East honors as a senior. Malecki was also named the Panthers' Most Improved Offensive Player in 2008 and was twice named to the Big East's All-Academic team. He hails from Pittsburgh.
Overbay (6-5, 270) played his college ball at Eastern Washington, where he set a career record for tight ends with 19 touchdown receptions. He appeared in 43 games for the Eagles, amassing 93 receptions for 1,189 yards and those 19 scores. As a senior, Overbay earned All-Big Sky first-team honors by notching 51 receptions (a single-season school record for tight ends) for 588 yards and 13 touchdowns. A nephew of Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay, he played his prep ball in Chehalis, Washington.
Sprinting to 200
Next Sunday, Ronde Barber will play in the 200th game of his illustrious NFL career, all 200 with the Buccaneers, joining Derrick Brooks as the only players in franchise history to do so.
If he's supposed to be slowing down at the double-century mark, nobody's told Barber.
Barber has been described as the ideal Cover Two cornerback, and perhaps the best run-support corner of his generation. The Buccaneers' current defensive scheme is a lot less Cover Two-intensive than it was in the past, but Barber remains a significant part of the team's run defense.
In Tampa Bay's 18-17 win over St. Louis this past weekend, Barber led the team with 13 tackles, just one off his career high in that category. A high tackle total for a cornerback can mean that he's allowing a lot of passes to be completed in his vicinity, but that is rarely the case with Barber. Against the Rams, many of his tackles came around the line of scrimmage, including at least one that came on his signature move: the run-blitz from the opposite side of the line, in which he shoots behind the opposing offensive line and corrals the ballcarrier from behind. He did just that against the powerful Steven Jackson midway through the fourth quarter with the Rams leading by five and just crossing into Buccaneer territory. A potential big gain for Jackson became just a three-yarder on second-and-nine, and the Rams had to punt two plays later.
Barber is in his 14th season, and earlier this year he broke Dick LeBeau's NFL record for consecutive starts made by a cornerback (Barber is at 173 and counting). However, he's producing like it's the early 2000s, not the early 2010s.
Through six games, Barber is second on the team with 51 tackles, tied for third with three tackles for loss and tied for second with two interceptions. He has also pressured the opposing quarterback three times, broken up four passes and forced a fumble. Barber is on pace for 136 tackles and five interceptions; the former would be a career high and the latter would be his highest total since 2005. If he merely doubles his tackle production over the final 10 games, he would reach 100 stops in a season – an uncommon total for a cornerback – for the sixth time in the last eight years.
The Buccaneers are focused on the multitude of rising young stars that will shape the team's success for years to come, and rightfully so. But amid all the Josh Freemans, Mike Williamses and Gerald McCoys is a star already fixed in the firmament. Ronde Barber just keeps shining.
Pro Bowl Balloting Begins
Could Barber's outstanding production help him add a sixth Pro Bowl selection to his credentials for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Could some of those young teammates of his get their first all-star nods? That is, in part, up to you.
Pro Bowl balloting has begun on NFL.com and will continue through December 20. During that time, millions of votes will be cast by NFL fans in support of their favorite players. The final ballot created by fan voting will make up one-third of the input in choosing this year's all-stars. The league's players and coaches also will vote in December, providing the other two-thirds of the ballot.
Click here to go to the NFL.com's Pro Bowl voting center. In addition to the ballot, you'll also find links for Pro Bowl history, Pro Bowl gear and tickets to the game. The NFL's all-star game moves back to Hawaii this season and will be played on the evening of January 30, 2011.
Williams Among Rookie Nominees for Fourth Time
If you head to NFL.com to fill out a Pro Bowl ballot, you may want to take time to cast a vote for Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams in another competition.
For the fourth time in just six games, Williams has been nominated for NFL Rookie of the Week. He has been chosen as one of five rookie nominees after each of the Buccaneers' four victories, in Weeks One, Two, Five and Seven.
Williams' latest nod comes after he helped the Buccaneers achieve an 18-17 comeback victory over the Rams on Sunday. Williams led the Buccaneers with 82 receiving yards on five catches, several of them critical to his team's rally. In the first quarter, he caught an 18-yard pass on third-and-34 to put the Bucs in position for the Connor Barth field goal that opened the game's scoring. And in the game's closing seconds, Williams caught a short pass on third-and-10 and eluded several Rams tacklers to get the ball all the way down to the one-yard line. Two plays later, Cadillac Williams caught the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds to play.
Click here to cast your vote for Williams in this week's balloting. He is competing against Kansas City safety Eric Berry, Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, Carolina wide receiver David Gettis and Cincinnati wide receiver Jordan Shipley.