Ronde Barber says there's no reason Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't be winners this year

Ronde Barber, right, hasn’t been assured of a job with the Bucs, and he says he’ll have to earn a starting spot.
Ronde Barber, right, hasn’t been assured of a job with the Bucs, and he says he’ll have to earn a starting spot.
Published April 5, 2012

TAMPA — Ronde Barber elected to return to the Bucs for a 16th season because he believed he could still play, because the Bucs wanted him back and because he likes that the team is showing a commitment to winning.

But it should also be noted that he chose to play this year because he thinks the Bucs aren't as far away from success as you might think.

"I look at the Giants' last two Super Bowls," Barber said Wednesday after offseason workouts and meetings at One Buc Place. "You only need an opportunity to get there. If you make the playoffs, you can make a run. We saw a young Green Bay team do it two years ago. There's no reason you can't.

"It's the one true thing that I appreciate about this game. If we can get 53 guys to have singularity of purpose, be able to stay focused on the job, there's no saying it can't be us. That's another reason why I'm playing."

Perhaps that sounds overly optimistic considering the Bucs are less than four months removed from a 4-12 season . But Barber, who turns 37 Saturday, has been a part of dramatic turnarounds before, including the Bucs' rise from 3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 in 2010. In 2005, the Bucs improved to 11-5 after finishing 5-11 in 2004.

"I think it can be us," Barber said. "And I hope everybody in the building thinks it can be us, too."

Barber said when he reflected on his performance in 2011, he believed it was up to his usual standards despite the team's less-than-stellar results.

"My personal (performance) wasn't as disastrous as it felt like because we lost so many games," he said. "That's the good thing about the NFL, that you start over in April and you start working toward a championship. When I felt like this team was going to make a push and try to win, that helped me make my decision to come back."

Now that he's back, Barber said he hasn't been assured of anything. He indicated he'll have to earn the starting right cornerback position he has manned for the past 14 seasons, probably in a competition with free agent signee Eric Wright. And Barber's okay with that.

"I'll let it play itself out," he said. "I'm no stranger to competition at my position. I'm not scared of that. They've been trying to replace me since '98. I welcome that. At the least, it makes me better. At worst, the guy who is better than me, he's going to get everything I've got and hopefully he comes out better. It is what it is. I don't make those decisions."

Barber still holds dear some useful advice he got from one of his college coaches long ago:

" 'The position doesn't belong to you. You're going to have to win this next year as well.' That's the way I've always approached my job."

Barber also touched on other topics:

• Playing safety: "I'm too small to play safety. I'm tiny. After (today's) workout out here, I'm like 180 pounds. I'll fit in where I fit in. They know that I'm here to help this team win, no matter what role I'm in."

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• New coach Greg Schiano and his staff: "They have a very direct purpose. The ship's a little tighter than it was last year. But that's a good thing. We need direction. We have a bunch of young men who need guidance, and he's giving it to them. I think that's the way it should be. I like the approach. I think it'll work well for us."

• The acquisitions of Wright, Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks: "I am excited about the guys we brought in here. This is a young football team, and it showed its youth last year, probably not in a great way. Getting guys like Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson … that's huge for this program. I'm excited to be a part of it."

Two sign tenders: Running back LeGarrette Blount and receiver Preston Parker, both exclusive-rights free agents, signed their tenders and now can participate in offseason activities.

The signings are largely procedural. Exclusive-rights free agents — basically players with expired contracts who have two years or fewer of credited NFL service —have no real negotiating rights and are permitted to sign only with their last team, provided the team tenders the requisite offer.

The collective bargaining agreement calls for those players be signed to a one-year deal for the league minimum based on their experience level. In this case, because Blount and Parker are entering their third season, they'll make $540,000.

QB released: The Bucs released backup quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who spent the past three seasons on the roster but appeared in one game. The Bucs have quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Dan Orlovsky on their roster and likely will add one or two before training camp.