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FAB 1. Barber Loves Bucs’ Young DBs

Many long-time PewterReport.com readers know that I’m a huge fan of legendary Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber. In the media, we’re not supposed to be fans or pick favorite players, but you know that I’m an honest, tell-it-like-it-is reporter.

Sorry.

In over two decades of covering the Bucs, I’ll admit that Barber is my favorite, and I’m a huge fan of both the person and No. 20 – the former player.

Our relationship started off a bit rocky. In the late 1990s when he was just starting to truly become Ronde Barber, he and I had a few words after I wrote that he was slow in Buccaneer Magazine, and didn’t have a great 40-yard dash time coming out of Virginia. Barber was quick to inform me that he won the national high school title in the 55-meter hurdles as a senior in 1993, with a time of 7.18 seconds. Barber was also timed at 14.05 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles.

At his locker, I apologized for calling Barber slow and we moved past that. He began to read what would become Pewter Report magazine and later PewterReport.com and appreciate my work. The feeling was certainly mutual as I marveled at the player that Jon Gruden would later say was pound-for-pound the toughest Buccaneer in Barber.

There were many years later in Barber’s career where he and I would do an annual Conversation with Ronde Barber for Pewter Report Magazine. I would ask the Tampa Bay media relations staff for 20-25 minutes of Barber’s time and he would always stay for a total of 45-60 minutes where we would stray from football at the end and talk pop culture, current events and national news. There wasn’t any subject that Barber wasn’t knowledgeable about.

Barber is simply the most intelligent Buccaneer I’ve ever known. When Barber talks, I listen.

Except for that one time during the 2008 offseason when I asked him about the class of cornerbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft, knowing that Tampa Bay was going to likely select one in the first round and that the Bucs’ brass would undoubtedly pick his brain during the scouting process.

Former Bucs CB Ronde Barber
Former Bucs CB Ronde Barber – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Barber, knowing I was a Kansas State alum, told me his favorite cornerback was Aqib Talib, who played at Kansas, and then winked at me. I thought the wink was a friendly dig at me for offering up the name of cornerback that played at K-State’s archrival. Instead, he was signaling to me that the Bucs were going to draft Talib, which they did with the 20th overall selection.

Talib wasn’t the fleetest of foot, and I remember him getting absolutely smoked by K-State’s Jordy Nelson earlier that year. Despite the subtle hint from Barber – that I ultimately didn’t pick up on – I didn’t have Talib in my mock draft or as a Bucs’ Best Bet that year in the Pewter Report pre-draft issue. Like Barber, Talib wasn’t known as a fast cornerback, but he was incredibly instinctive and had a nose for the ball.

No wonder Barber appreciated Talib, whom he told me was the best cornerback he ever played with. That’s saying something considering that Barber also suited up next to Donnie Abaham, who had 31 career interceptions in Tampa Bay, and Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith, who were both on the Bucs’ Super Bowl team.

I learned my lesson.

When Barber talks, I listen.

So when Barber held court with the Bucs beat writers following his Bucs Ring of Honor induction speech at the AdventHealth Training Center on Tuesday, I was all ears for the half hour he gave us. One of the questions I asked him was about Tampa Bay’s young secondary, specifically the cornerbacks. Barber had given general manager Jason Licht props for drafting four cornerbacks over the last four years, including two this year. Licht actually drafted five if you count special teamer Ryan Smith.

After a storied 16-year Hall-of-Fame-worthy career it’s safe to say that Barber knows defense, and he certainly knows the cornerback position. Barber works for Fox as an NFL color commentator as well as WFLA News Channel 8’s Bucs preseason analyst, so he basically lives at One Buccaneer Place during training camp where he has been watching the young cornerbacks intently to see how they perform in Todd Bowles’ scheme, which features a lot of press-man coverage and blitzing.

Bucs GM Jason Licht and legendary CB Ronde Barber
Bucs GM Jason Licht and legendary CB Ronde Barber – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“The one position where you don’t have a lot of thinking is corner,” Barber said of Bowles’ scheme. “You’re going to end up in a match almost every single play. They’re aggressive. One thing that you guys have noticed when you watch the film, watch practice, every single ball is contested. It’s conducive to making plays on the ball because there’s always the threat of pressure, so the ball is never going to come out on time. You can’t hold the ball. It’s got to come out. It will be exciting.”

One thing that will greatly aid Tampa Bay’s young cornerbacks is the constant pressure from the blitzing linebackers and safeties. Bowles is a relentless blitzer.

“You haven’t seen any of it yet,” Barber said. “I’ve been privy to look through a playbook and I’ve probably seen about five percent of it. He was the one guy, obviously I did Arizona games, I did a Jets game last year, and trying to diagnose it, it’s hard – hard to figure out what he’s coming with and what it actually looks like. By the time the play’s over you’re like, ‘What coverage were they in?’ For a quarterback, it’s hell. It’s going to be tough. That’s just what it is.”

Barber has always been a big fan of Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2016. Barber endorsed the move to draft Hargreaves because he loves his quick feet, smooth hips and aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage and when tackling. It’s no surprise that Hargreaves, who is a press-man cornerback, is now thriving in Bowles’ press-man scheme.

But what about the other Bucs cornerbacks?

“[Jamel] Dean looks unlike any corner I’ve ever seen,” Barber said of the 6-foot-1, 206-pound athletic freak. “He’s big, long and he can run a 4.2. Like what? I don’t know what that is!”

Bucs DBs Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards
Bucs DBs Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

It’s clear that Barber is an awe of Dean’s athletic prowess even if he’s got a ways to go to develop into an NFL player. Barber is also impressed with the Bucs’ other rookie corner.

“Sean Murphy-Bunting has Vernon-like short space quickness and a feel as a football player.”

Murphy-Bunting reminds me a bit of a taller Abraham, and I think Barber sees it, too.

“Carlton [Davis], I think he’s better at the line of scrimmage,” Barber said. “He’s long, physical as hell and he’s competitive. I really like him.”

Even though he’s a hybrid safety-nickel cornerback, M.J. Stewart was another player Barber talked about and he brought his name up in the discussion.

“M.J. Stewart has impressed me as much as anybody,” Barber said. “His first couple days of practice this year, I was like, ‘Oh, God. He’s going to succumb to the pressure of these young guys. Since then, you can easily say he’s been the second-best corner out there. He’s versatile and can do a lot of things.

“He’s tough as hell, which I like. You know this – I tend to judge corners through the prism of Ronde Barber. You know? How would they compare to me? He most closely resembles it.”

That’s high praise coming from Tampa Bay’s best defensive back of all-time, and the franchise’s all-time interception leader with 47 picks. Stewart was blown away by Barber’s comments when asked about them after practice on Wednesday.

“That’s an honor coming from a guy who’s in the Bucs Ring Of Honor and potentially a future Hall of Famer,” Stewart said. “I think he should be [in the Hall of Fame]. Hearing those words from him is an inspiration and motivation to me just to … it’s a tribute to what I’ve been doing on the field with my work. I just got to keep going and keep going, just to prove his words right.”

Bucs CB M.J. Stewart - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs CB M.J. Stewart – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I still question Stewart’s speed, as too often he is in a trail position covering slot receivers or outside receivers if he doesn’t get a good jam at the line of scrimmage. But Barber is right that Stewart has really come on in camp, and has certainly been a physical presence on the gridiron.

Who am I to question Barber’s educated opinion on Stewart?

I was wrong to call a certain former Bucs cornerback slow before. Maybe I shouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

27 COMMENTS

  1. Certainly Sapp is right – GMC can’t be considered in the league of the great Bucs.

    However, I wonder how many playoff games Sapp would have experienced had his running mates been of the caliber that Gerald enjoyed (LaVonte for sure, but then I can’t even think of another worth mentioning….Brent Grimes?, Clint McDonald?, Robert Ayers?, Chris Conte? – those were the best?), instead of the other Buc Greats (Rice, Brooks, Barber, Lynch) that Sapp enjoyed and so frequently mentioned in his remarks. It does feel like an apple to an orange comparison.

    But, yes, Gerald is not in that class.

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    Rating: +16. From 20 votes.
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    • Agree, Players careers are often judged by the quality of players around them and the win/loss record of the overall team. So far we are content with Suh based on his demeanor on and off the field. However if the team only wins 4 games and the rest of the players on the D-line don’t perform to our expectations Suh will get all the blame.

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  2. What a great read! If talent isn’t the problem and we finally have the right coaches in place is this finally our year? I hope so I have my tix’s for the 49ers and cant wait to drive across the state. GO BUCS!!!!!!!!!

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  3. Funny story, but true. I always loved Ronde, mostly because when I high school I wore #20 and played cornerback. I was a reserve, but when I got into the game, I played as well as I could. Try hard guy, that was me.

    Anyway, this was during Ronde’s second season and I new and just started posting on Pewter Report and I wrote a message to Scott asking about how Ronde was doing (I don’t remember if it was prior to training camp or after one of the practices) and Scott replied and said ‘He’s probably going to be cut this year’.

    Always remembered this because I always rooted for #20. Glad that Scott was wrong.

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    • Lol! That’s great. It was BucMag.com back in the day. And yes, things looked grim for Barber in 1997-98 until he turned it on. Then he never looked back.

      Yes, I’m certainly glad I was wrong as Ronde has been a joy to cover and get to know over the past two decades.

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  4. It wasn’t to long ago the ESPN reporter stated the Bucs weren’t happy with Cappa’s development and that was the reason they signed a guard/center FA. The local media picked up on it and before you knew it the statement was almost being treated as gospel.
    When I read about the FA signing I myself thought, hmmmm, it looks like they aren’t pleased with Evan Smith and stated as much when PR announced the signing.
    Guess who was right.
    At the time I thought to myself, how the heck does this girl no the organization isn’t happy with Cappa and his ability.
    She cited no team source and since the OL had been in nothing but shorts since last season, how the heck would anyone know how much he had developed.
    Besides that, it was ESPN who was doing the reporting.
    My how things have changed in such a short time.

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  5. Is it just a coincidence that The Bouncer took the Vita-Manbeast to the ground when the knee injury occurred? Don’t get me wrong my expectations for Vea are sky high. Now I am so pleased to see Cappa emerging also. Maybe he will become a manbeast on the OL.

    ____________
    Go Bucs!!!

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    • Yes, you are right. Vea was going against Cappa when Vea’s injury occurred. Certainly didn’t do it on purpose, but Cappa was clearly holding his own against Vea – and has all camp.

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  6. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, Gerald.
    The same character you have shown recently about your whinning about your number is the same character that “led” this team to countless losing seasons.
    Such a big baby.
    BA was right to get rid of you.

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  7. Seems like the Bucs all-time greats are more excited for this team than they’ve been in many years. I can see our secondary becoming one of the best units in the league within 2-3 seasons, given the Bucs retain Bowles and Ross over the next several seasons.

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    • That’s definitely the case. I spoke with a lot of Bucs alums at practice last Tuesday and they were all-in on B.A. and his coaching staff, which is the most legit staff since Dungy’s and Gruden’s back in the heyday.

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      Rating: +8. From 8 votes.
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  8. Cappa coming around is huge. If our Lg C and RG are solid and Smith can at least hang in there for another year or two then we can try to draft a T to replace Dotson next year since he’s probably about done and hopefully move that T to LT the next year and our Line will be transformed. Having the Middle solidified will make the job for the Tackles a lot easier so that will be invaluable to helping Winston and the run game this year. It’s crazy how 1 spot can make or break a line.

    Things are shaping up pretty good so far this offseason. The consistency will continue to improve and in the game and regular season they won’t be forcing Throws and Plays like in practice so it will be in the games where we hopefully see the true improvements. Only time will tell.

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  9. Lol. Cappa has no choice but to be on the rise. He’s got nowhere to go but up, and they don’t have anybody else.

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  10. Interesting Max Kellerman ESPN just stated Jameis Winston most overrated QB in NFL……….BAB says
    21 million to QB that does not win hasn’t won will not win and will waste this year for Arians is completely moronic This team off radar of national coverage only ones talking is the ten posters from Pewter with out me there would be 9

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    • @buc-ass-bob Max Kellerman has about as much credibility talking about football as I do. He should’ve stuck to boxing. Now I would take it more seriously if it came from someone who either coached or played. Take the week off BAB, you must be tired from all this research. 👍🏼

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    • That is why it’s calledBSPN.

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  11. @drdneast Yeah that’s the problem with any reporting outside of Tampa. If you aren’t the Cowboys, Patriots or Packers then no one outside the area actually bother to really get to know anything. They seem to work off of rumors and old information and don’t actually know anything, especially when there are no sources like you said.

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  12. Max Kellerman is a joke! Dumbest show on television. One of the main reasons ESPN is unwatchable anymore

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  13. I don’t think Sapp ever really cared that much for McCoy. It’s obvious he respects players like Suh who turn on the nasty when they take the field, that was never McCoy. Sapp did his best to help Gerry during his career, but he could never get him to flip that switch. Now that he’s gone, Sapp’s true feelings about him were on display. Good player, yes, but never the difference maker a player like Sapp was. I always thought McCoy made most of his pro bowls as the token Buc player, because he was the best of the worst. I agree with Sapp, he has no business in the ring of honer. I don’t buy the old argument he never had any help. Great players don’t need help, they’re the ones who are supposed to make everyone around them better, not the other way around. I’m hoping Cappa balls out this year, and proves me wrong about him. I liked what I saw against Pitt. Keep up the hard work big fella. Nothing would please me more then to see you succeed. I’m a Buc fan first, I’d rather be wrong about you, then have you fail, for the good of the team. Bounce some ass tonight!

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  14. For anyone interested who may have been pissed that we didn’t take Derwin James, he is out with a broken leg. Vita was the best pick.

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    • He has stress fracture of the 5th metatarsal of the right foot. Sometimes called a Jones fracture. Wide receivers who have had the injury include Dez Bryant, Julian Edelman, and Sammy Watkins. Might do a compression fix with screws. Expect him to miss at least a half of the season.

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    • I was one of those who wanted Vea over James. I saw them both in the same ballpark as far as value as athletes. I wanted Vea based on an opportunity to fill a greater need.

      No one wants anyone to fail because of injury. I sure hope Vea does not turn out to be injury plagued. I want this because we need him to perform well for many years to come.

      I will pray that James’ injury is not career ending against any odds.
      _____________
      Go Buc!!!

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    • Unfortunate but the NFL is a game with injuries. Next man up. Lets hope Vea returns for the season opener.

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  15. The problem with Max Kellerman saying jameis is most overrated QB in League is no one other than the 9 who post on Pewter even have him rated , Out side of Tampa no one even thinks about him unless they are talking about the Uber situation.

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  16. It’s a shame that after reading another very interesting and informative Fab Five that I have to then be subjected to the musings of the current naysayer who only wants to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor BF47. I suspect Bob’s on-line persona is as fake as the opinions he regurgitates. Why would someone calling himself a fan seemingly want our QB, NT or any other player to fail?

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  17. When folks are so quick to label players a “bust” I often think of Ronde Barber who was on the verge of being nicknamed “Toast” Barber along with fellow DB, John Lynch who was also not initially the #47 we all know and love.

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  18. But ass Bob why are you even a bucs fan? If you think so lowly of the team, why don’t you go cheer for the patriots or saints? You never have anything of value to say, you’re always negative, whining, itching, and moaning about everything. You’re just a black hole of negative vibes.

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