Cornerstones Are In Place For Bucs

Bucs woes in 2004 were never to blame on cornerbacks.

By Jeff Berlinicke

It happened all too early and all too often last season, the disastrous 5-11 campaign that kept the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the playoffs for the second straight season.

The Bucs would be in the game, trying to let their defense keep it close until the offense could conjure something, and then there would be a breakdown in the defensive backfield.

The Bucs kept the pressure up front all season but the defensive backfield would give up the big play.

One thing is for sure, though. You can't blame the corners.

Incumbents Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber held up their end of the bargain all season and both are back for 2005, albeit a year older.

Barber is one of the best in the business and, even if he isn't pleased with his contract situation, Barber is a fixture who won't be going anywhere, salary headaches or not. At 30, Barber has a lot of football left in him while Kelly on the other side is only 29 and healthy for the first time since last training camp.

During the off-season, there was talk that barber might be a salary cap casualty, but it was never seriously considered. Barber is the ultimate team player, constantly reworking his contract for the good of the organization while quietly getting the job done and representing the Bucs at the Pro Bowl.

Barber had three interceptions last season, and made 111 tackles, once again ranking among the league leaders. He and Kelly have combined for 39 interceptions as a tandem.

Kelly, on the other side, is one of the more underrated Bucs. He struggled with injuries last season and is usually lost behind Barber in the headlines, but his steady play has been a constant with the Bucs since the Super Bowl year of 2002.

The Bucs also signed veteran Juran Bolden to play nickelback, where he played 13 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.

The Bucs stayed put in the draft at defensive back, and will struggle in case of any injuries, but the position is strong and safe. That's important because the safety position is a mess.

NEXT: SAFETY

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