During every practice session this offseason, Ronde Barber has lined up safety. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Barber will end up playing free safety during the season, although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the cornerback himself are keeping the door open for him to move back to cornerback. Can the veteran succeed in his new role? I'm not so sure about that.
Let's start with the positives about Barber's move to safety. There is certainly a precedent of cornerbacks moving to safety and doing well at the position late in their careers, most notably Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Barber certainly has some of the skills necessary to succeed at safety: the speed to cover a decent amount of ground in deep coverage; the physicality and willingness to tackle to make an impact in run defense or as the last line of defense and the experience, explosion and ball skills to break on the ball and create turnovers.
Yet, I have more questions and concerns than I have answers and confidence in this case. While other cornerbacks have moved to safety and succeeded, they were all significantly bigger than the undersized Barber. The Tampa Bay veteran weighs some 180 lbs. and is just 5'10". Compare that with Lott and Woodson, who were both 6'0" and weighed over 205 lbs. Barber has played a physical role in the box for a long time as a slot cornerback, so his body should be able to hold up to the pounding. But playing safety still seems to require a different body type.
Run defense could be a real issue with Barber as well. Last season, he was out of position much too often. The cornerback often tries to make a tackle but getting out of his gap, and in a one-gap defense like the Bucs' that can be a killer. The Bucs will ask him to come down into the box and be the 8th man in run defense, and he needs to be more disciplined than he has been in the past. He needs to a better open-field tackler than he has been as well, as Barber has been juked a few too many times in the open field.
Pass defense is a concern, too. Barber has made a living off jumping routes, but he has given up a lot of completions that way too. Especially in recent years, as he has lost some speed and the ability to quickly recover after biting on a pump-fake. In underneath coverage as a cornerback this isn't a huge problem, as there are safeties in position to stop deep completions. As a safety, though, you are that last line of defense. And a safety who bites on a pump-fake, is a safety who gets beat for a touchdown.
In the end, Barber may be the Bucs' best option at safety. Ahmad Black, Larry Asante and Devin Holland don't inspire much confidence, nor does moving a sixth-round rookie cornerback to safety in Keith Tandy. Cody Grimm has been a useful safety when he's been on the field, especially so in run defense, but he lacks the speed to cover a lot of ground in single-high coverage. More importantly, perhaps, he's coming off a knee injury, and he never looked completely healthy last season. Barber has the experience to make the move successfully, but there are concerns there too.
The Bucs seem set to go with Barber and Barron at safety. Will that work, though? Give us your opinion in the comments and the poll.