TAMPA — During the NFL offseason, you often will find Bucs great Ronde Barber on the golf course, pursuing his longtime passion.
It's a habit he picked up from an older teammate years ago, when cornerback Anthony Parker played for Tampa Bay.
"He was the guy who dragged me to the golf course when I first got here," said Barber, a third-round pick in 1997.
But Parker passed on lasting lessons of a different kind, too, such as how to approach football as a profession and the kind of work ethic needed to stick around in a cutthroat sport in which the average career length hovers around three years.
Little did Barber know he would be imparting similar knowledge on young teammates 15 years later. His latest project: first-round draft choice Mark Barron.
With Barber moving from cornerback to free safety, one of the NFL's oldest players finds himself next to a 22-year old strong safety expected to be a cornerstone of the franchise.
Barber, 37, was wise enough to know he should absorb those lessons from Parker and other elder teammates. And Barron, an All-American for national champion Alabama last season, recognizes the value of doing so, too.
"He's been through pretty much anything you can go through as an NFL player," Barron said. "I feel like if there's anything I need to know, I can go ask him."
Don't think it's a given a player grasps the value of that.
"I think (Barron) understands he's fortunate to have a guy like Ronde to mentor him," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "Sometimes, guys fresh out of college don't realize how fortunate they are to have that. It's come easy (in the past), and they think it's going to continue to come easy. But it's a different level of competition.
"Ronde, on the flip side, has been willing to help and share, which I think is great."
But here's the twist: Barber, the five-time Pro Bowl selection at cornerback who holds the franchise's interception record, said the learning goes both ways.
"There are definitely some things that I learn about the position from him," Barber said. "I've seen a lot over the years, and I've played with some great safeties. So I'm not worried about my confidence level back there. But it's good being out there with Mark. I'm figuring out what to do, and he's figuring out the defense. I'm trying to teach him to be a professional. There are definitely things that are beneficial."
It's an ideal relationship for the Bucs. They have the consummate professional in Barber — a player who has surprised even the team's first-year coaching staff with his uncompromising work ethic — teaming with a businesslike rookie they believe can be great.
"We've got a young group of (defensive backs) who are here in camp," defensive backs coach Ron Cooper said. "For them just to be able to sit in the meeting room with Ronde, who is a total professional, to watch how he studies and how he works and how he takes notes, how he works on the field, watch his attitude, it's a plus for everybody."
Assistant defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley watches in awe.
"One of the hardest workers I've ever been around," he said. "It's perfect for Mark. For a young guy to come and see how it's done, that's special right there."
Barber has never had a problem with his work ethic, but he seems to have turned things up a notch after his position change. The new position and Schiano's defense seem to have stimulated him.
"It's not very often you get to play 16 years, but to (also) find new challenges in your 16th year with new opportunities to challenge yourself," he said. "I'm very comfortable not staying status quo and finding ways to better myself and this football team."
And while Barber tries to improve on his potential Hall of Fame career, Barron would be wise to watch closely to see how Barber has pulled it off.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.