Michael Bennett leads the Buccaneers’ defense and is tied for 12th in the NFC with 6.0 sacks. Defensive tackles Roy Miller and Gerald McCoy have been key interior forces in the Bucs’ dominance against the run. Rookies Lavonte David and Mark Barron have made an instant impact on a defense that is playing with a noticeably higher level of aggression in 2012.
But ask San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers what player specifically jumps out at him on Tampa Bay’s videotape, and he skips over all those young up-and-comers to the very back of the Bucs’ defense, where the 37-year-old Ronde Barber resides.
Rivers and the Chargers come to Tampa this weekend, and even though the Buccaneers have the NFL’s 32nd-ranked pass defense, he’ll be making a point to look out for one of the league’s shrewdest defenders.
“Unless you’re playing against him, he’s a fun guy to watch because he’s just an awesome football player,” said Rivers of Barber. “A guy that played that many years, he played at corner, he’s played nickel and now he’s playing safety, and he’s the dime linebacker in certain packages. He’s just an awesome football player – you watch the way he strips the ball and the things that he does, makes tackles in the hole on Adrian Peterson. He’s a heck of a player, obviously an unbelievable career.”
Barber’s career, now in its 16th season, has received another shot of adrenaline from his conversion to safety in 2012, after 15 years and five Pro Bowls as a cornerback. Pro Football Focus, home of some very in-depth statistical football analysis, recently tabbed Barber as one of their two NFC Pro Bowl picks at safety, and he is still producing at a high level. Barber’s three interceptions lead the team and are tied for fifth in the NFC, and he also has 45 tackles, a sack and 10 passes defensed.
“The guy is phenomenal,” said Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner. “When he has his helmet on, he looks like he’s about 24 years old. And he’s playing like he’s about 24 years old. He’s a guy who’s always played inside in the nickel package so he’s comfortable inside. Obviously, you can see that he’s helping everyone on that defense, not only with his style of play and his playmaking, but his leadership and his understanding of how you play the game.”
Barber has played only two games against the Chargers in his illustrious career, the fewest times he’s faced any NFL team. But he made them count, racking up 15 tackles, an interception and two passes defensed. Barber gets another crack at the Bolts this Sunday, but Rivers and company are well aware of his presence.