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Bucs analyst Ronde Barber rebounds

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best comeback

Just two weeks after an uneven debut as a game analyst, former Bucs standout Ronde Barber rebounded with a strong performance in Saturday's Bucs-Dolphins preseason game on Ch. 8.

He still is working on some of the nuts and bolts of broadcasting, but his commentary is becoming more concise, critical and insightful. He seemed much more comfortable than his first game, the preseason opener against the Ravens, and will get even better when Fox coaches him up a little more during the regular season.

His best moments Saturday came when talking about Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman (left), who had another unsteady performance. Barber showed he is not going to back away from criticizing someone he — you would believe — likes personally. That's always a big step for players-turned-analysts.

"Josh has to come out and prove (himself)," Barber said during the broadcast. "(He needs to) answer these questions."

Later, when the offense struggled under Freeman, Barber added, "I don't think they are going to come out of this game and say they got exactly what they wanted. … I don't know if they are really feeling comfortable right now."

As far as Freeman going into this season without a contract for next season, Barber said, "I think it's smart on both parts. (Bucs general manager) Mark Dominik is making a smart decision on this."

Yes, it makes sense from Dominik's side to not rush into contract talks with Freeman. But if Freeman continues to struggle, it's not necessarily in Freeman's best interests to be unsigned.

Strongest comments

With five laps to go in Saturday night's NASCAR race at Bristol, Matt Kenseth was trying to hold off Kasey Kahne (left).

That's when ABC/ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett came strong.

"I think a lot of people have never questioned the talent of Kasey Kahne," Jarrett said. "But some question: Does he have the toughness in a situation like this to get the job done and get that driver out of the way?"

That's outstanding.

Turns out, Kahne could not pass Kenseth, and some might question if it was because Kahne wasn't willing to trade paint. Even Kahne said he had a better car but did not drive well enough to win.

That's top-notch analyst work from Jarrett.

Biggest conflict

ESPN is denying a New York Times report that it pulled out of an investigative report with PBS's Frontline about NFL concussions because of pressure from the NFL. ESPN, which is a broadcast partner of the NFL and has billions of dollars tied up with the league, said it withdrew because it didn't have editorial control.

Frankly, that excuse doesn't pass the smell test seeing as how ESPN and PBS worked together on this project for more than a year. It also seems like the NFL's personality to put pressure on any entity critical of its product.

However, ESPN does correctly point out it has produced stories in the past about concussions that have not been flattering to the NFL.

My guess is there is something in this Frontline report that went further than ever before in holding the NFL responsible for concussions and that made ESPN (as well as the NFL) queasy.

Whatever the reason for withdrawing, ESPN now is on shaky ground. From now on, rightly or wrongly, it will be seen as a company more interested in placating the NFL than investigating it. That's probably not fair, but that's the perception among many. And there isn't anything worse than a network, particularly one that sees itself as a journalistic outlet, losing credibility.

Biggest debut

Keith Olbermann's show on ESPN2, Olbermann, debuts at 11 tonight. What will the show be? ESPN is saying it's a sports version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Instead of talking about news and politics, Olbermann will concentrate on sports. ESPN president John Skipper called the show "smart, funny, provocative."

Media notes

• Longtime Tampa Bay media personality JP Peterson is leaving town. The former Ch. 8 sports anchor and host of several radio shows, Peterson is off to Atlanta to host a radio show.

• Kenny Mayne signed a multiyear extension with ESPN. Part of the new deal means he will fill in occasionally on the late-night, Los Angeles-based version of SportsCenter.

• Former NFL players Jerome Bettis and Mark Brunell are joining ESPN as analysts. Both will be seen on NFL Live and SportsCenter. Brunell is coaching Jacksonville Episcopal and will join ESPN after the high school season ends in early November.

Three things that popped into my head

1. It was surprising to see so many in Yankees jerseys giving Alex Rodriguez (top) a standing ovation at the Trop over the weekend. Do you realize you gave A-Rod the same respect you gave the classy Mariano Rivera (bottom)?

2. The best news in the sports world over the past week? Dodgers announcer Vin Scully is returning for a 65th season calling big-league games.

3. If the Brewers' Ryan Braun believes his released statement and admission that he used PEDs was enough, he's sorely mistaken. He still has plenty of explaining to do.

Tom Jones' two cents

Bucs analyst Ronde Barber rebounds 08/25/13 [Last modified: Sunday, August 25, 2013 9:43pm]
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