TampaBaySportsCentral.com. to discuss several Bucs-related topics, including his own future in pewter and red.
Barber shared his thoughts about Greg Schiano’s coaching style, the play of the Bucs’ secondary, which was the worst pass defense in the league in 2012, the acquisition of Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson and the possible trade for Darrelle Revis.
Barber, who turns 38 on April 7, played free safety for the first time in his career and led the team once again in interceptions with four, while earning Pro Bowl alternate honors. The Bucs have told Barber that the team wants him back for another year and have left the decision to return solely up to the former third-round pick in 1997.
“I’ve always said that if I could still do it and I still wanted to do it, and they wanted me to continue to do it, then I would,” Barber said. “I would imagine if I do come back that this would be it. I’m 38 [in April], and that’s a pretty significant age, especially when you factor in the guys I’m playing with.”
Despite signing Goldson, who will take over at free safety, there is still plenty of playing time for Barber, who has the flexibility to play safety, cornerback and nickel cornerback in the slot.
“I’ve never backed away from a challenge, so no matter what I decide – if I decide to play or not to play – it wouldn’t be because of that,” Barber said of Goldson’s presence. “They gave the sole decision and put it on my shoulders. They gave me all the variables and I will weigh all of those.”
Barber applauds the signing of Goldson, and is encouraged to see Tampa Bay import some Pro Bowl players over the last two years, such as the former 49ers safety, guard Carl Nicks and wide receiver Vincent Jackson
“I’ve only seen him when we’ve played him, but he’s a heck of a football player,” Barber said of Goldson. “You don’t make the type of impact he had on that secondary in San Fran by chance. He’s a Pro Bowler, and he deserved to be this year. He’s a big signing. We’ve been active, and I think that’s a big thing.
“For years [everybody says] we haven’t been. The NFL is a fickle thing and there is a reason why we have such room under our [salary] cap. We’ve managed it and tried to grow the team the way we’ve done it in the past, and that’s through the draft with young players and build from the bottom up. But I think everybody is going to embrace going out and getting some premier players. The area deserves that. It’s been a while since we’ve had a winner.”
Barber said he didn’t suffer any serious injuries during the 2012 season and feels great this offseason.
“I left last season after we played Atlanta telling myself that I could keep going,” Barber said. “I wish we had made the playoffs because my body felt great.
“Like I’ve said before, it’s going to be a gut decision for me. I’m hoping to wake up one day and hoping all of those factors combine into a real clear decision for me.”
Barber got to share his feelings about Schiano’s first year with the head coach and the assistant coaches, and appreciated the opportunity to do so. Barber brushed off the notion that Schiano’s collegiate ways, such as his famous “toes on the line” mantra, were too much. Instead, he said the young Buccaneers needed discipline and structure.
“I don’t know if it’s collegiate, it’s just his way,” Barber said. “A lot of college coaches get that rap just because the way they’ve had to deal with 100 or so players. I think you have to come in and set that type of tone. It was definitely needed. It really exposed his personality, which you want your team to feel. Good teams reflect [the personality of] their head coaches. I’ve said that a thousand times. When we won a Super Bowl we definitely reflected Jon Gruden, and Tony Dungy before that and Raheem Morris after that.
“[Schiano] was just doing it his way. Whether or not he decides that maybe that was a little much or maybe I need to do it even more. That’s something they’ll decide in the offseason. To his credit, him and his staff, they met with every single player and they had a checklist of things they did well and things they could do better, and got real feedback. Not just the ‘I’m going to talk to my captains’ – they got feedback from 53 or 62 or however many guys we had available at the end of the year. I think that will help.”
One thing that will really help the Buccaneers is improved play at the cornerback position. Starters Aqib Talib and Eric Wright were both suspended for four games for using the performance-enhancing drug Adderall. Talib was eventually traded to New England for a fourth-round pick, and Wright wound up missing a couple more games due to an Achilles injury. As a result, the Bucs were forced to play undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson and off-the-street signings, Danny Gorrer and LeQuan Lewis.
Barber said he would love to play alongside Revis, whom the Bucs are attempting to acquire in a trade with the New York Jets.
“Revis would fit in any scheme,” Barber said. “When you have superior athletes they fit no matter where you put them. He would be a great guy to play with. I played with some really good corners all the way back to Donnie Abraham and Brian Kelly. I still assert that Aqib [Talib] is still one of the most athletically gifted football players that I’ve ever been around. But the things that Revis does on film – I’ve actually never seen him play in person – not a lot of guys can do. Maybe a handful.”
Barber said he loved the challenge of learning a new defensive system after spending virtually his entire career playing a form of the Tampa 2 defense, which was initiated by Dungy and former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in 1996.
“We did the Bates thing for about five weeks and then we went back to what we always ran,” Barber said. “Really integrating into a different system really, really engaged me and I loved it. I took the challenge and ran with it. I had a lot of fun playing football and I wasn’t sure I would under the completely new regime. At the end of the day, I love football. No matter what situation you put me in I’m going to find a way to succeed.”
Barber didn’t say when he would make a decision about whether to return to the Buccaneers for one final year, but he did reveal that he plans on retiring in Tampa whenever that day comes.
“This town has been very, very good to me,” Barber said. “Thirty one other franchises and the cities they are in – I got in the right one for me.”