NFC South: Ronnie Lott
April, 26, 2012
TAMPA, Fla. -- Before he was even asked a question about his first pick as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Greg Schiano was painting a portrait that probably still is invisible to most Tampa Bay fans.
Schiano had just stunned his fan base -- and probably the rest of the world -- by taking Alabama safety Mark Barron at No. 7. A safety at No. 7? This guy had better be the second coming of Ronnie Lott and Ed Reed put together or, at very least, John Lynch Jr. You don’t take a safety at No. 7, and say you gladly would have taken him at No. 5, unless you think he’s special. Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik definitely thought Barron was special.
“I think he fits into what we do defensively perfectly,’’ Schiano said. “You couldn’t draw it up any better.’’
That probably doesn’t excite you, especially if you wanted the Bucs to stay put at No. 5 and draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. And I know there was a contingent of Tampa Bay fans who thought Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly would be a perfect fit after the Bucs traded out of No. 5 and Claiborne went to Dallas at No. 6.
Either of those would have fit the profile of what we’ve come to expect from the Buccaneers, stretching back to Tony Dungy, running through the Jon Gruden era (with Monte Kiffin as the bridge) and right through the ugly final days of Raheem Morris.
But here’s the thing: Those days are over. This is Schiano’s team now.
Unless you’re a die-hard Rutgers fan, you don’t have any clue what a Schiano team looks like. Even if all your Knights are scarlet, you might see some changes as Schiano adjusts to the NFL. He’s not about to publicly share his X's and O's, but he certainly has implied this team is going to look a lot different in a lot of ways. Believe it or not, that might start at safety because Barron is going to be tied to Schiano forever, for better or worse.
“I think our safeties have to be more dynamic than in most schemes,’’ Schiano said.
At 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, Barron is big enough to play in the box and make an impact on a run defense that needs improvement. With 12 career interceptions, Barron also has shown the ability to make plays in coverage.
“He needs to be able to do a lot of things, and he is capable of them,’’ Schiano said.
He’s going to have to cover wide receivers man to man, Schiano said. That’s a change from the days of Kiffin’s Cover 2, when safeties picked up wide receivers only after they got past the cornerbacks and Lynch often played the role of a linebacker. That may not be enough in an NFC South in which Drew Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards in a season and Cam Newton and Matt Ryan can put up big numbers. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s not just an NFC South trend. All around the league, teams are throwing the heck out of the ball.
“Safety has become an extremely important position now,’’ Dominik said.
More important than cornerback? Where the Bucs have Eric Wright, an aging Ronde Barber and a question mark in Aqib Talib?
Obviously, the Bucs think so. Dominik said the Bucs would have chosen Barron at No. 5 if they had stayed put. That means they would have chosen him over Claiborne, who was widely considered the best cornerback in this draft.
That’s a pretty strong statement from a team that has chosen only two defensive backs in the first round in its history and both of those were cornerbacks. There’s even a bit more pure football logic about this pick.
The Bucs had a big need at safety after releasing Tanard Jackson. They were left with Cody Grimm, a possible move to safety by Barber and not much else. Barron fills that need.
But I don’t think this pick was completely about X's and O's and pure football ability.
Marvin Gentry/US Presswire"You couldn't draw it up any better," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of getting safety Mark Barron.
I think the selection of Barron was another sign that Schiano is going to do things much differently than in the past. Something obviously cooled the Bucs on Claiborne. Maybe it was that he reportedly had a low Wonderlic score or maybe it was something else.
Schiano said he and Dominik saw sparks the first time they watched film of Barron. By the time they interviewed him at the combine, there was a flame. As they talked about Barron, Schiano and Dominik both mentioned that he was a two-time captain for a team that won two national championships during his stint.
“He fits who we are and what we are,’’ Schiano said.
I get the impression Schiano cares a lot about what guys bring as players, but I’m getting an even stronger sense he cares about what they bring as people and how that can translate into winning. That’s sort of a new concept around here, at least since the Dungy days.
“He fits who we are and what we are,’’ Schiano said.
In other words, the Bucs think Barron can step right in and be a leader on a team that desperately lacked leadership and personality in the Morris days.
“Our coaches are excited to get their hands on him and mold him into a Buccaneer Man,’’ Dominik said.
We’ve heard the phrase “Buccaneer Man’’ a lot since Schiano took over. The problem is we have no idea what the new Buccaneer Man is supposed to be. But now we’re starting to get a bit of a portrait.
With Barron, there’s a face and maybe an outline of a body and a personality. Looks a little like a good athlete, a natural leader and a guy who was asking if there was a way to get his hands on a playbook Thursday night, even though he’s scheduled to fly to Tampa first thing Friday morning.
Maybe the Barron pick doesn’t look so bad -- or blank -- after all.
July, 1, 2011
Getty ImagesSafety Darren Sharper, left, and cornerback Ronde Barber could benefit from a few more big seasons to help their Hall of Fame candidacy.Let’s be clear here: We’re playing zone, not man-to-man coverage.
We’re not putting Saints S Darren Sharper and Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber against each other straight-up and declaring that one or the other has a better shot at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We’re just lumping these two veteran NFC South defensive backs together and exploring their chances of one day being enshrined in Canton, Ohio. (For what it's worth, voters in our recent NFC South poll think Barber has the edge.)
Fans may think Sharper and Barber already are locks for the Hall of Fame because each has put up impressive career statistics. But it’s not nearly as easy as you might think to make the Hall of Fame when you’re a defensive back, especially when you’re a safety like Sharper.
Take a look at this list of Hall of Fame members. It’s broken down by position, and defensive backs are one of the most exclusive clubs. When Deion Sanders goes in later this summer, the Hall of Fame will be home to 22 defensive backs. That number includes cornerbacks, safeties and guys who were a combination of the two. It also includes some guys like Sanders who were more than defensive backs. Sanders also was a return man, occasionally a wide receiver and, in his prime, one of the most famous athletes on the planet.
Barber and Sharper each have had excellent careers, but I don’t think you can look at either of them and say they’re sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famers. If they’re going to get in, it might take some time and some effort in the voting room. It also might take some more work by each of them.
Let’s start with Sharper. He’s property of the New Orleans Saints for the moment, but can become an unrestricted free agent once the lockout is over. We don’t know if Sharper will re-sign with the Saints or move on. but we do know he has already put up huge numbers in a career that’s been divided between the Packers, Vikings and Saints.
Sharper has 63 interceptions, the most among active players and No. 6 on the all-time list. Sharper’s been to five Pro Bowls and made the all-decade team for the 2000s. But he is a safety, and even his spectacular numbers might not be enough.
You want evidence? I give you Paul Krause, a safety with more career interceptions (81) than anyone in history. Krause went to eight Pro Bowls, was All-Pro eight times, and put up his numbers in an era when teams didn't throw nearly as often as they do now. He finished his playing career in 1979, but didn’t get into the Hall of Fame until 1998.
Statistically, Krause might have been the best centerfielder safety ever, but voters haven’t given easy passes to guys who were pure safeties. Besides Krause, there are only four other enshrinees who played their entire careers at safety. Guys like Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson spent much of their careers at safety, but also played some cornerback.
Sharper is tied with Lott in career interceptions, and four of the five guys in front of them are in the Hall of Fame. But wherever Sharper plays this season, he needs to keep adding to his numbers to improve his chances at the Hall of Fame.
Sharper played on some good teams in Green Bay and Minnesota, but he didn’t win a Super Bowl until he joined the Saints. Another Super Bowl title, or at least a good playoff run, would help. Sharper’s biggest strength, besides his interception total, might be what he’s done after he’s intercepted passes. He’s returned 11 interceptions for touchdowns, which puts him second in history.
Still, if Sharper’s going to get to Canton, he needs to keep building his numbers this year and maybe even beyond that.
It’s a similar story for Barber, who has spent his entire career playing cornerback for Tampa Bay. He’s got strong career numbers -- 40 interceptions, 26 sacks -- and Bucs fans will proudly tell you Barber is the only player in history to register at least 40 interceptions and 25 sacks.
That’s a neat little bit of trivia, but I don’t think being the best pass-rushing cornerback ever will be enough to get Barber automatic entry into the Hall of Fame. That title may be nice, but it sort of equates to being the first baseman with the strongest throwing arm in baseball history. Strong arms for first basemen and pass-rushing skills by cornerbacks aren’t bad things to have, but they’re not really part of the job description.
Besides, even if you focus just on Barber’s interception total and skills in coverage, which is what Hall of Fame voters generally do with cornerbacks, he might be sitting on the bubble at best.
There are scouts, coaches and players who will tell you Barber never has been a dominant shutdown corner. They’ll tell you he’s a very nice player, but, in his prime, was a product of a Monte Kiffin defense that was built around DT Warren Sapp and LB Derrick Brooks. They’ll also tell you offenses never spent a lot of time worrying about Barber because their focus was on Sapp and Brooks.
Those two guys and others also could present another hurdle for Barber. Tampa Bay fans seem to think Brooks, Sapp, Barber, safety John Lynch, fullback Mike Alstott, defensive end Simeon Rice, former coach Tony Dungy and probably even tight end Tyji Armstrong will all waltz right into Canton.
Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. The Bucs of that era won precisely one Super Bowl title. They were not the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s and voters take that type of stuff into strong consideration. Brooks should have no problem getting into the Hall of Fame and Sapp’s right on his heels. Dungy probably gets in, but a good bit of his work was done later with the Indianapolis Colts.
That might be it for a Tampa Bay team that was known for its great defense in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Barber and Lynch each have a shot. But, at absolute best, maybe one of them gets in someday.
It should be pointed out Barber has transcended eras. He’s continued going strong since the departure of Kiffin after the 2008 season and has provided stability as Tampa Bay has gone through a youth movement.
Barber is 36 and has committed to at least one more season. Durability counts for something, but Barber might need a big 2011 season and maybe more to really get his résumé shining for the Hall of Fame.
Barber’s 40 career interceptions rank No. 75 on the all-time list. I’m looking at the guys ahead of him and seeing names like Terrell Buckley, Troy Vincent and Dre' Bly. I seriously doubt any of those guys will be in the Hall of Fame. When it comes down to voting time, Barber's going to have to deal with contemporaries like Champ Bailey, who has been viewed as a shutdown corner most of his career.
Like Sharper, one of Barber’s strengths is what he’s done after intercepting passes. He has seven career interception returns for touchdowns, which ranks No. 8 in history, and also has returned four fumble recoveries for touchdowns.
There’s one way Barber can make himself a clear Hall of Famer: put up big numbers for another season, or several seasons, and help the Bucs build another great defense. If he can get to somewhere around 50 career interceptions, add a few more playoff wins and maybe even another Super Bowl ring, then Barber’s path to the Hall of Fame will be much easier than it is right now.
December, 27, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- Darren Sharper just broke the NFL record for return yards on interceptions in a season.
Sharper just had his ninth interception of the season, picking off a Josh Freeman pass and returning it 21 yards. That gives Sharper 376 return yards this season. The previous record (358 yards) was set by Ed Reed in 2004.
Sharper now has 63 career interceptions. That times him for sixth place on the all-time list with Ronnie Lott.