TAMPA — Bucs veteran CB Ronde Barber acknowledges there likely will be times Sunday when his job will call for him to cover Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez.
It's an unenviable task for anyone, as Gonzalez, in his 15th season, ranks fifth on the NFL's all-time receptions list (1,081), having racked up 11 Pro Bowl selections.
"He's hell to deal with," said Barber, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, also in his 15th season. "As he's gotten older, he's gotten smarter, I think. He definitely runs his routes a little better. He's a great player — the best I've ever played against at the position."
Gonzalez boasts a unique blend of size (6 feet 5, 247 pounds), speed and savvy at the tight end position, and he has fared well against the Bucs over his career: 45 catches for 470 yards in seven games.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris said game situations will dictate how often Barber (5-10, 184) matches up with Gonzalez, most likely in nickel packages or in the red zone. But it won't be a one-man job.
"Gonzalez is a Hall of Fame tight end, and he's going to find a way to get open no matter who I put on him," defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. "Put a corner on him, put a linebacker, or put (rookie DE Adrian) Clayborn on him, he's going to find a way to get open."
Morris said: "He's going to run his routes, use a legal push-off, and he's going to catch the ball. He's mastered the art. He's the best at what he does."
The Falcons already have a lot of offensive weapons, with All-Pro WR Roddy White, first-round pick WR Julio Jones and All-Pro RB Michael Turner. White said Gonzalez makes them all better.
"It helps tremendously," White said. "Any time you get a guy like that who catches everything and can open up the middle of the field, he demands double coverage and things like that (make it) so much easier to get one-on-ones on the outside."
Blacked out: Tickets still remained for the game, so the Bucs will be blacked out on local TV for the 10th straight regular-season home game.
TALK IT UP: Rookie MLB Mason Foster will be the only voice in the Bucs' defensive huddle against the Falcons.
Foster, who took over the play-calling duties when strongside LB Quincy Black missed the second half of the 24-20 win at Minnesota with an ankle injury, will wear the helmet transmitter if Black doesn't play.
That formula worked at Minnesota as the defense limited the Vikings to 114 yards in the second half with Foster calling the plays.
"Mason will call the plays if Quincy doesn't go," Morris said Thursday. "He's not that deficient. I was just trying to take something off his plate. Mason is sharp, smart. Mason is dying to get the green thing (transmitter) in his helmet anyway. He wants all the information. He's doing well.
"He probably could've done it … from the beginning. I just made it easy for him. He'll play all situations this week. He'll get a chance to be out there in nickel, he'll be in two-minute, he'll be in base."
STEPPING IN: If Black can't play, LB Dekoda Watson welcomes the challenge of making his second NFL start, filling in on the strong side. "It's just an opportunity right now, just got to make the most of it," Watson said. "Coaches are confident enough if Quincy don't make it back, put me in. And as a second-team player, or anybody like that, you've got to step up as a starter. I've got to prepare and go in there and not be a weak link."
Times staff writers Rick Stroud and Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.