SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. Legendary Buccaneers defensive back Ronde Barber has decided to call it a career after 16 illustrious seasons in red and pewter. A Pro Football Hall of Fame berth should be coming, but it may not be the slam-dunk Bucs fans believe it is. I feel I lay out a compelling case in a past edition of SR’s Fab 5 that you can read right here.
I’m going to republish the argument for Barber’s entry into the Hall of Fame in a separate article on PewterReport.com to help advocate for his candidacy. But in this edition of SR’s Fab 5, I want to share some of my favorite things about Barber’s amazing career in Tampa Bay.
In my 18 years of covering the team as a beat writer, which began in 1995 with the arrival of Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp and future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, Barber is my favorite all-time Buccaneer. While I enjoyed covering Sapp, Brooks, linebacker Hardy Nickerson, fullback Mike Alstott, strong safety John Lynch, defensive tackle Brad Culpepper and scores of other popular Buccaneers, Barber was always my favorite interview.
I loved that Barber, who might be the smartest Buc I’ve ever encountered, could go anywhere with a topic in an interview. Barber could talk Bucs. He could talk college football. He could talk sports. The former Virginia Cavalier could talk politics, entertainment and current events. He was as worldly and intelligent as they come in an NFL locker room.
Barber and I have had a mutual respect for one another for the better part of his career. I once wrote – back in 1998 or 1999 I believe – that he was not fleet of foot, evidenced by a pedestrian 40-yard dash time that caused him to slip to the third round. Barber read that in the old Buccaneer Magazine, which was the predecessor for PewterReport.com, and he took my comments personally.
I think Barber appreciated it when I took the time to sincerely apologize to him rather than to defend what I wrote. I told him that that the NFL community believed he was slow based on his 40-time and the round in which he was drafted – not that I personally believed he was slow. Apparently that earned points with him, and I always appreciated Barber casting himself as the underdog with an ever-present chip on his shoulder – even when he became a Pro Bowler.
Throughout the years, Barber has commented to me that he has enjoyed reading PewterReport.com and appreciates our insight, and our fair and objective approach to reporting. To emphasize that point, he has had an annual sit down interview with me that was always scheduled for about 20 minutes and typically went past 45 minutes, much to my delight. I could talk to Barber for hours about football and everything else. He’s just a damn good interview and a great, interesting human being.
Has that made me biased towards Barber as the years have gone on? Oh, I’ve tried to remain objective, but it’s just so hard with that guy. Number 20 is just so classy and likable as a person and a player – he’s my favorite. I can’t deny that.
What has saved me from being considered to be too biased in my coverage is the fact that Barber’s high level of play has always bailed me out. In his 16th and final NFL season, Barber was a Pro Bowl alternate and the team’s leading interceptor with four picks – all while playing a brand new position at free safety. Barber was still so good in coverage that he covered up my bias.
I could easily fill up an entire SR’s Fab 5 with my insight and analysis of Barber’s Hall of Fame career the way I did with last Friday’s column on Sapp. But I did write a lot about Barber earlier this offseason and I do have to address Tampa Bay’s 2013 draft class sooner rather than later.
I will leave you with a couple more quick things about Barber before moving on. As I wrote in a previous SR’s Fab 5, Barber has moved up the ranks in team annals and has become the fourth-best player in Tampa Bay history on the field after Brooks, Lee Roy Selmon, the team’s first Hall of Famer, and Sapp – in that order. I defy anyone to challenge that point and will be happy to debate it.
Off the field, what made Barber the best interview in my opinion was his candidness. Ask him who was the best cornerback he ever played with and he would pick Aqib Talib – warts and all – over more accomplished players like Donnie Abraham and Brian Kelly because he thought Talib was more talented.
Ask him about the Tony Dungy years and instead of speaking glowingly about the franchise turnaround he uses terms like “wasted opportunities.” The reason? Barber knew the Bucs had a Super Bowl-caliber defense, but Dungy didn’t hold the offense accountable for its inadequacies over the years and that cost the team a chance for multiple Super Bowl appearances from 1999-2001 before winning it all in 2002 in Barber’s eyes.
What Barber said through the years wasn’t always popular, but it was candid and honest. And that’s why he was one of the most respected Buccaneers in the eyes of the media members, including mine.
I will actively advocate for Barber’s entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I plan on having a sit down with Tampa Tribune’s Ira Kaufman, who is Tampa Bay’s Hall of Fame voter and effectively argued for Sapp being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and fortify him with facts and reasons why Barber should join Sapp and Selmon – and likely Brooks – in Canton, Ohio.
I also plan on reaching out to ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and other prestigious national writers on NFL.com and elsewhere to help make the case to drive Barber’s candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Barber has been so much more low-key than his brother, Tiki, throughout his career, and he needs some help.
As I mentioned at the top, his entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame isn’t the slam-dunk some fans might think it is as Barber often played in the shadows of Sapp, Brooks and Lynch. But Barber will get his day in Canton, Ohio. I believe it.
FAB 2. Before we bronze Barber’s bust and prepare it for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, let’s go back to where it all began, which was the University of Virginia in the offseason of 1997. Barber had declared for the NFL Draft and left school a year early, just like his brother, Tiki, did.
Ronde had already graduated from Virginia in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in commerce with an emphasis in marketing, so he was essentially done in college. And with 15 interceptions in three seasons, including eight as a freshman, four as a sophomore and three as a junior and helping Virginia win the 1994 Independence Bowl and the 1995 Peach Bowl, there was nothing else he really wanted to accomplish with the Cavaliers.
At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Barber was undersized, and a 40-yard dash time of around 4.5 made him fall to the third round of the draft where general manager Rich McKay, director of player personnel Jerry Angelo, director of college scouting and head coach Tony Dungy were thrilled to make him a Buccaneer.
“What we saw when we got him was pretty much what we saw on tape,” Angelo said. “He was a guy that a tremendous amount of confidence in himself. He was very, very tough and he was productive. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest talent, obviously. We took him high in the third, and in the third round you are expected to get a good football player – a guy you can win with. Obviously, we felt like he had a lot of talent. Did he pass all the litmus tests in terms of the measurables? Probably not. But there was something intangible about him and the way he played the game.”
Intelligence, tackling, instincts and toughness were the primary traits Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wanted in cornerbacks for their Cover 2 zone defensive scheme. The defense was tailor-made for Barber.
“Our scheme – the defense Tony ran – wasn’t predicated on speed with fast corners,” Angelo said. “We wanted athletic corners, tough corners, smart corners that would tackle well. Ronde fit what we did. Maybe he didn’t fit all schemes, but he fit what we did. It was a good fit because he had mental speed. Ronde’s instincts were rare. Ronde saw things in slow motion. He was able to do a lot of things in his career before they happened. He saw the game in slow motion.”
The game remained in slow motion for Barber for the next 16 years as he racked up a franchise-record 47 interceptions, and scored 14 non-offensive touchdowns.
“He reminded us a lot of Donnie Abraham,” Dungy said of drafting Barber.
“He wasn’t the fastest, but Tim Ruskell and Jerry Angelo felt this guy was perfect for what we do. They did a lot of the road work and it was a good choice for us.”
Even at age 38 Barber remains sensitive about his speed. He’s quick to point out his track accomplishment during his senior year of high school.
“I used to be a fast guy, man,” Barber said. “I used to be a national champion in (55-meter) hurdles in high school. Don’t tell me I’m slow.”
Barber played faster on tape than he timed on a stopwatch, and that’s a big reason why the Bucs drafted him and a big reason why he’s played for 16 years in the NFL. Keep in mind that Tampa Bay feels the same way about Johnthan Banks, too. Banks, the Bucs’ second-round pick this year, couldn’t break 4.51 in the 40-yard dash, but the team’s scouts believe he plays faster in games.
Barber was fast enough to chase down speedy Redskins receiver Albert Connell, who ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, and tackle him at the Tampa Bay 6 after a 61-yard reception on a slant pass during the 1998 season. The Redskins were denied a touchdown on that play and would have to settle for a field goal in a 20-16 victory over the Bucs.
“Monte won’t let me forget that play,” Barber said. “It’s his favorite play of all-time. When I first got here we would always watch tape together in our defensive meetings. Part of it was a chance for Monte to call guys out and let everybody understand why the defense didn’t work, or why it did work. But it was also a chance for him to celebrate great plays.
“That play, he probably showed it 50 times back then that year – and then 50 times the next year and then over and over and over. The way that you play the game and the effort in which he wanted guys to play the game – it was a perfect example for him. He’s probably using it in Dallas.”
Angelo knew Barber was fast enough and good enough to play in Kiffin’s defense and have success. He knew Barber was a Buccaneer cornerback. But did Angelo realize he would be drafting a future Hall of Famer in the third round? No. If he did, Barber would have been the team’s first-round pick in 1997.
“We saw something here in Tampa for 16 years that we saw at the University of Virginia as well,” Angelo said. “It was great. To me he is the quintessential player. Did I think he was going to have this type of a career? No, but it’s a great story. He was not only great for this team and for the community, Ronde Barber was great for football.”
FAB 3. Johnthan Banks can pick off passes. He won the Jim Thorpe Award by being a playmaking cornerback at Mississippi State, recording 16 career interceptions that he has returned 320 yards, including four during his senior season. Three of those picks were returned for touchdowns in his career. The Bucs love his ability to make plays on the ball and create takeaways.
Banks has a great frame and well versed in press coverage. He’s 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and physical on the line of scrimmage and all the way down the field. The Bucs love big, rangy cornerbacks that can man up on a receiver and become a shadow.
Banks is tough. He’s a solid tackler, a decent blitzer and tough against the run. He’s compiled 221 tackles (139 solo), four sacks, including three his junior season, and five forced fumbles, including three as a junior, in his Bulldogs career. The Bucs love the fact that he’s a cover corner that can do more than just cover.
But aside from his size, toughness and production, the Bucs love Banks’ maturity. In case you haven’t noticed, Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s all business and wants his players to treat football like it’s their job … because it is.
One of the reasons why the Bucs believed so much in Banks is because of how serious and mature he is. Banks never knew his mother, who couldn’t raise him after he was born because of her troubled life. Banks was raised by his grandparents on his father’s side and Banks’ grandparents had their financial struggles, but did their best to raise him. His father, who was a very hard worker and made time for Johnthan when he could, lived nearby until tragedy struck. When Banks turned 12 his father was killed in a car wreck and all he had was his grandparents, who raised the horses that Johnthan came to love.
Four years later, Banks’ grandfather passed away and he had to learn how to raise himself at the age of 16. His uncle’s horses kept him working and out of trouble. Banks loved horses and football, especially Mississippi State football. That was his team, so when the Bulldogs were the only ones to offer him a scholarship he didn’t care. He was living the dream by going to MSU.
Banks wanted to play quarterback initially, but picked off so many passes when tested as a defensive back during his freshman year that he was placed at safety and then cornerback. During his freshman year as new head coach Dan Mullen began to reinvent the program, Banks’ maturity help him become an instant star, picking off two passes against Middle Tennessee State to help Mississippi State before notching two more against Florida’s Tim Tebow that were returned for touchdowns.
That kick-started an illustrious Bulldogs career that led him to Tampa Bay in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Bucs are not only getting a playmaker that is expected to be the team’s starting nickel cornerback, but they are also getting a mature young man that will bring a business-like attitude to the NFL.
Former Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham set a franchise rookie record with five interceptions in 1996. Don’t be surprised if Banks threatens that mark as a rookie and makes an instant impact in the NFL. Due to his maturity and mental make-up, Banks will only be a nickel cornerback for a short time before replacing Eric Wright as the starter opposite Darrelle Revis.
FAB 4. One of the more intriguing decisions by the Buccaneers in the 2013 NFL Draft was selecting Buffalo defensive end Steven Means in the fifth round. Many draft analysts and experts had Means as a seventh-rounder or as an undrafted free agent candidate. However, the Bucs note that six teams brought him in for a pre-draft visit at their respective headquarters, according to their intel. That prompted Tampa Bay to ensure his selection by drafting him in the fifth round.
So what kind of player is Means? A look at his highlight tape (he’s number 40) – which can be viewed here and here shows an explosive first step, long arms and physicality. Means tackles a little high, but he hits hard and wraps up well.
He has a high motor, strong hands, and always hustles. Means appears to have good ball awareness and not much wasted movement while rushing the passer or pursuing the ballcarrier.
Means has good leaping ability to block kicks on special teams and make lunging tackles and sacks on defense. At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, he played as an undersized defensive end in a 3-4 scheme and can work against both tackles and guards, attacking the B and C gaps. Means is also versatile enough to rush the passer from the left side and the right side, and it looks like he could be a killer twister inside while running games with defensive tackles.
Yet as good as Means looks in highlight videos, there are questions about how he will perform against a higher level of competition in the NFL. Here is a breakdown of his 19.5 career sacks. Only three came against schools from BCS conferences.
Means’ Career Sacks At BuffaloAkron 3 sacksUMass 3 sacksUConn 2 sacksGardner-Webb 2 sacksMorgan State 1.5 sacksRhode Island 1.5 sacksOhio 1.5 sacksPittsburgh 1 sackWestern Michigan 1 sackMiami (Ohio) 1 sackStony Brook 1 sackBowling Green 1 sack
So how did Means fare against schools from major conferences? Not so well.
Against Georgia in a 45-23 defeat, Means notched one tackle, a pass breakup and no sacks. In a 45-3 loss to Northern Illinois, which went to the Orange Bowl in 2012, Means had five tackles and a tackle for loss and no sacks.
In three games against Pittsburgh, Means notched nine tackles and one sack. In two contests versus Central Florida, Means generated three tackles, a pass breakup and no sacks.
Yet the Bucs see Means’ physical traits – his quickness, athleticism and body lean and balance while pass rushing – and believe they can ease his transition to the NFL with proper coaching.
“I’m excited because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came in here and identified Steve,” Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn said. “They came up for a personal workout. They were here for his pro day. We spent a great deal of time discussing behind the scenes. What was the thing that they talked about? Character, character, character. This is a guy that is a high character young man and a high achiever. He loves it, he lives it and he’s a competitor. He’s going to be a great asset.
“We sell attitude to the NFL. We sell guys that really love it and live it, and that’s what I saw in Steven. He put a lot of time in. Now he has to go make that team, and really show the folks down in Tampa Bay that they found a really good football player and someone who is very passionate, competitive and coachable.”
Means is going to need some coaching, because he was handled rather easily in Saturday afternoon’s mini-camp practice in one-on-one pass rush drills by right tackle Jace Daniels, a tryout player from Northern Michigan. Daniels is from an even smaller school and drove Means to the ground twice. However, team sources say that Means might have been tired in the afternoon because he used his 4.6 speed to blow by several offensive tackles in the morning practice, which wasn’t open to the media.
It will be interesting to see if Means can make the transition to beating NFL-caliber competition after playing in the Mid-American Conference for four years.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Here is one more thing from Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn on defensive end Steven Means, who excelled in special teams drills during Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp and blocked several kicks in college:
“They saw a lot of special teams value in Steve,” Quinn said, “Coach [Greg] Schiano knows defense as good as anybody. I coached against him when I was at Cincinnati. Coach Schiano understands defense and players and how he wants those players to fit into his scheme. They were very high on Steven because of that and the special teams value, knowing that he’s going to graduate, and knowing about his leadership in the locker room.”
• The biggest surprise in Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp was quarterback Mike Glennon, the team’s third-round pick. The coaching staff was pleasantly surprised with how quickly he grasped the concepts of the offense and the plays, and also with his mechanics. Glennon is far from a finished product, but the Bucs truthfully drafted him to become Josh Freeman’s backup in the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft.
However, at first glance, Glennon has the physical and mental make-up to get the first crack at replacing Freeman if the team’s starter falls short of expectations this season and doesn’t earn a contract extension in 2014. Instead of viewing Glennon as a probable career backup, the Bucs believe he can develop into a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL.
If you missed Glennon’s time with former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden in his ESPN series, Gruden’s QB Camp, here is the link. It’s definitely worth a view.
And if you are looking for a good highlight reel of Glennon in action, check this out.
• Keep an eye on two undrafted free agents this summer in training camp. Northern Illinois cornerback Rashaan Melvin turned heads during the rookie mini-camp. At 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, the Bucs love Melvin’s size and his college production. In 42 games, Melvin picked off six passes and broke up 30 more, in addition to recording 172 tackles and a forced fumble. Check out this highlight tape.
The other player is Jace Daniels, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound swing tackle out of Northern Michigan where he was a four-year starter at left tackle. Daniels is a very agile, quick-footed ruffian with good balance, an explosive punch and a mean streak. Although he played at a small school, Daniels dominated, as you will see on this highlight tape.
It was this type of effort, tenacity and results that saw Daniels beat up defensive end Steven Means in the afternoon practice on Saturday’s rookie mini-camp and earn a spot on Tampa Bay’s 90-man roster. Daniels reminds me of Donald Penn when he was more svelte and agile coming out of Utah State in 2005.
• One final Bucs note. It was great seeing former Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy back at One Buccaneer Place in the span of two weeks for the Warren Sapp Bucs Ring of Honor announcement ceremony and Ronde Barber’s retirement press conference. It was an incredibly classy move by Dungy, who has to walk by a statue of Jon Gruden in the lobby to commemorate the Bucs’ Super Bowl victory in 2002.
It’s hard to believe that legendary linebacker Derrick Brooks didn’t show up for either Sapp’s honor or Barber’s retirement. Sapp expected Brooks to be there, and even mentioned him at the podium, saying, “Where’s Brooks at?”
Barber notified the team and Sapp that he wouldn’t be there for Sapp’s day because the questions would naturally turn to whether Barber was going to return for a 17th season or not. It’s understandable that Barber didn’t want to become a distraction.
As for Brooks? He better have a damn good reason to be absent on both of those days, and I hope it isn’t sour grapes that Sapp is going in the Bucs Ring of Honor first and that Ronde is retiring on his terms whereas Brooks was released unceremoniously by the team.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR’s Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons’ Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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