Who will take lead?
By ANWAR S. RICHARDSONarichardson@tampatrib.com
Published: August 5, 2010
Updated: 14 min. ago
TAMPA - The Buccaneers once had leaders who were easily identifiable to cornerback Ronde Barber.
There was linebacker Derrick Brooks, whom Barber described as the elder statesman and politician. Warren Sapp was the gregarious player who held everyone accountable. John Lynch was quiet in the locker room, but he led by example on the field.
Barber saw the different dimensions of their leadership produce a dominant defense and an eventual Super Bowl championship. He also understands why it appears Tampa Bay lacks leaders after finishing 3-13 last year.
Entering his 14th NFL season, Barber is eagerly waiting for Tampa Bay's new group of leaders to emerge.
"If you put 53 people in a room, let alone football players, ultimately one of them will eventually stand out and be a leader of the pack," Barber said. "That's a human dynamic, not necessarily a team dynamic. On our team, because we're so young, it's impossible to identify them."
It is easier to identify leadership characteristics.
Bucs center Jeff Faine spent the 2006 and '07 seasons in New Orleans and said every player knew Drew Brees was the man. Players followed Brees not because he was a quarterback, but for his previous success and consistent work ethic.
"It's all about what you do on the field," Faine said. "All the talk in the world doesn't make you a real leader. You've got to go out there and back it up. You've got to speak with your actions. Then you have to speak with your mouth, too.
"For people to believe and really buy into what you're saying, you're going to have to show it."
Brooks' success was so legendary that when linebacker Geno Hayes was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2008, he clung to every word the veteran spoke.
"A lot of people think the body of work makes you a great leader. That's not how you judge a leader," said Hayes, who played at Florida State, as did Brooks. "It's about how you carry yourself and if a guy is a man of his word. That's how I judge.
"You just can't throw a leader out there just because of their body of work, because they might not be a leader. You judge them by the man he is."
When Tampa Bay purged its roster two years ago and got rid of principles such as Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Ike Hilliard and Cato June while deciding not to re-sign Kevin Carter, the lack of leadership contributed to the organization's worst season since it won three games in 1991.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris spoke throughout the offseason about second-year quarterback Josh Freeman being the leader of this year's team, but Barber is seasoned enough not to anoint him yet.
When Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, Sapp, Brooks and Lynch were more recognized as leaders than quarterback Brad Johnson, something Barber remembers.
"Josh Freeman is a quarterback, so it would be nice if he were a leader. That's what you say," Barber said. "Josh has enough presence and personality and enough respect from the guys already that he can be a leader. I'm sure he will.
"I don't doubt he will be one of our captains, not only a leader, but a perceived leader and real leader. It's going to come down to how he plays to determine how much respect he will get."
While the jury is still out on Freeman, Barber and Morris peg one person as Tampa Bay's emerging head honcho.
Cornerback Aqib Talib has quietly developed into an authority figure, Barber said. Although Talib is known to the public for getting into trouble, Barber predicted he would become Tampa Bay's "next Warren Sapp," the guy who holds everyone accountable.
Morris gave an example of what he observed during a special teams practice at training camp this week that backed Barber's forecast.
"(Gerald) McCoy had to go to special teams practice because he's a rookie and he ran some sprints by himself on his own, hung out on the sidelines and was talking to some random guy," Morris said. "Aqib went over there and said, 'You don't do that while we're practicing.' Nobody sees that, but that's his way of being a leader.
"They all have different leadership qualities. They all have different leadership styles. There are some guys you follow to the end of the earth and there are some guys you need to follow right until you get off that football field. All our guys have that type of ability."
When that gift emerges, Barbers believes it will be easy to identify Tampa Bay's leaders.
"As our leaders go, our team goes. The ultimate leader on a football team is the head coach," Barber said. "Good football teams assume the personality of their head coach. They absolutely are. They take the head coach's vision.
"You look at Raheem and we know we have to be just like him to be successful because that's how he wants our team to be."
Reporter Anwar S. Richardson can be reached at (813) 259-8425.