Ronde Barber is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer icon, and has been a consistent contributor to the pass defense in Tampa Bay for the lifespan of most high school students. 2012 was no exception, as the ageless and relentless Barber twin continued to show the same hustle, smarts, and skills that earn him respect and praise from experts and pundits everywhere. His position was “changed” to free safety this past season, but Barber is far too versatile to lock into one position, and found himself all over the field in different situations. Some of his best plays came when he was closer to the line of scrimmage, because he has a knack for weaving his way through traffic to make plays on runners, quarterbacks, and receivers.
But there are some complications with Barber’s role in the defense as we look ahead to the future of the Buccaneer defense. We saw in 2012 that Barber’s wild card role on the defense often left Mark Barron alone on an island in coverage, and this led to Barron being one of the most often beaten pass defenders in the NFL. Barron is a promising player who is taking time getting adjusted to the NFL game, and might be better suited as a “closer to the line of scrimmage” type of safety. That means the Buccaneers would need to upgrade the free safety position, because even if Ronde plans to play another season, a 38 year old player cannot be the cornerstone of a rebuilding defense.
Enter Dashon Goldson.
The 49ers free safety is known across the league for being a hard hitter (just ask Mike Williams, click for video proof). But he’s grown into being a very good pass defender who is very good at reading the play in front of him from a deeper position. Goldson had three interceptions in 2012, and every single one was a result of playing centerfield and reading the play, changing direction, and reacting to the quarterback’s eyes. He also made multiple pass breakups by keeping up with receivers on deep routes, all while maintaining his ferocious downhill hitting style. He’s an active player with a bit of swagger, never afraid to let the other team know he’s on the field and running around making plays.
Bringing in a capable free safety who is still capable of moving down and defending the run and short pass allows the Buccaneers to use similar schemes as they did with Ronde Barber. Goldson’s ability to defend the pass deep down the field is the bonus, allowing Barron to be the one to walk up closer to the line, and use his strength and ability in a more confined space, rather than having plays unfold in front of him. He struggled being decisive on routes that came towards him and cut in front of him in 2012, so Mark could benefit from playing further up the field, with Goldson dropping deep when a one safety look is the call, or joining Goldson deep if it’s a cover 2 look.
And if Barber does come back, it affords the Buccaneers the option of using him however they see fit, getting the most out of him on any given down. He would likely “start” at cornerback, to maintain his streak, but he would play nickel and dime packages, possibly play safety from time to time, and just generally make his presence felt on the football field, like he’s done for so long. But the Buccaneers would have the free safety they need for the next few years, as Goldson is only 28 and has just 6 years of experience, meaning there’s still a 4 or 5 year contract left worth of his prime years.
Bringing in a great free safety shifts the Buccaneers defense to allow more players to be in positions at which they can succeed. A year-wiser Mark Barron would be less often left alone on an island, the aging Ronde Barber would have a more focused role was a wild card cornerback, and the other cornerbacks would know they have backup in Dashon Goldson. Oh, and Bucs fans could get to watch the best hitter to play in Tampa Bay since John Lynch left town.
What do you think, Bucs fans? Let us know your thoughts on Dashon Goldson and the free safety position in general in the comments below.