TAMPA — Ronde Barber is a great football player, as evidenced by his 14 years in the league, five Pro Bowls and distinction as the only one in NFL history with at least 25 sacks (26 total) and 40 interceptions.
The Bucs cornerback has been asked numerous times what he would be doing if he weren't playing pro football, and people are surprised at his answer. He never had a Plan B.
"I always thought great people, successful people, allow what they're great at to define them," Barber said.
And that, in a nutshell, is his advice for CB Aqib Talib.
The talented but troubled Talib is scheduled to stand trial in March on charges of assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a shooting in Texas in March of this year.
Barber hopes Talib will be presumed innocent and permitted to play in 2011, but commissioner Roger Goodell has said players who run afoul of the league's personal conduct policy during the lockout will be punished once a new collective bargaining agreement is signed.
Talib, who was suspended for the first game in 2010 by Goodell for punching a cab driver, has allowed his off-field problems to overshadow his on-field accomplishments.
"I don't want say he can't do without football, but he's so good at it, football shouldn't be interrupted for a guy like that, especially for anything that happened outside of football," Barber said.
"If I had any guidance for Aqib it would be to make him focus on football. Everybody has priorities, and I'm not one to tell anybody what to do with their lives, but we all know that football has got to be something that defines him, not all this other stuff."
Barber said he and coach Raheem Morris have implored Talib to spend his offseason training in Tampa. But Talib has chosen to return to his hometown near Dallas, where his mother and two sisters live.
It was there, in Garland, where Talib and his mother, Okolo, were arrested in connection with a shooting involving the live-in boyfriend of one of Talib's sisters March 21.
"He has his life in Dallas, and I don't know what that life is," Barber said. "Aqib is a person that should be … the confident Buc.
"But he's got to embrace Tampa the way Tampa as the team wants to embrace him. (Former Buc great) Warren (Sapp) was great with that. He knew the team atmosphere was better when everybody is around. There's a culture, a spirit, and nowadays (players) want to go back and train wherever they are.
"That's different than from when I was coming up. We always wanted to be around."
TIKI UPDATE: Barber's twin, former Giants RB Tiki Barber, told USA Today the Bucs and Steelers are on his "short list" of teams for which he wants to play as he returns from retirement.
How realistic is it that the Barbers could be reunited in Tampa Bay?
"It was an entertaining thought four or five years ago," Ronde said. "I don't know how realistic it is now. I've not had a chance to talk to (GM) Mark (Dominik) or Raheem about it. Maybe the situation would be a little different under different circumstances. But I know he wants to go somewhere where feels like he's wanted."
The Bucs had the youngest team in the NFL last season, and RB LeGarrette Blount led all rookies in rushing with 1,007 yards. RB Cadillac Williams will be an unrestricted free agent, so it remains to be seen if there is a spot for a third-down back.
"He's prepared. He looks like did preretirement," Ronde said of Tiki. "He really dedicated himself and has been in there working out for four months. The only thing he doesn't have is the on-field endurance.
"He's very adept at what he used to do. I don't see him having a problem. The one thing he can't fail at is football. He had somewhat mastered it when he retired."