A few minutes with … Ronde Barber

Bucs veteran Ronde Barber took some time out during a visit to the NFL Network studios to discuss when it’s really time to retire, why Peyton Manning is the best player in the NFL and ranking am0ng the all-time greats.

You don’t use the word “retirement” often. How long do you want to play?
RB: I’ll play until I can’t do it anymore. I’m fortunate to be in a good situation. I have a coach who I’m comfortable with, and he’s comfortable with me. I have a GM who understands me and wants me around. We’ll play it year by year. I think all parties involved will know when it’s time for me to be done.

How will you really know when it’s that time?
RB: It will be simple. When I go out on the field and I don’t like practicing and I can’t get through practice. Then I’ll know it’s time for me to not do it on Sundays anymore.

The Bucs turned down “Hard Knocks.” Right call or wrong call?
RB: Absolutely the right call, for a lot of reasons. Some of them are unsaid, but we have a young team, we need to keep our focus on the field. I know we all watch it, and it’s somewhat entertaining, but it’s a distraction. … We need to keep our focus on our young team playing football and not being movie stars.

One of those young guys, Gerald McCoy, also visited recently. What should we expect from him in Year 2?
RB: By midseason, Gerald decided to take things into his own hands and really make the effort — not that he wasn’t before — to be a dynamic player. It really started to show. One week he was this guy, the next week he was another guy. He’s going to build on that this year. He’s got two new defensive line coaches who will absolutely improve his game. … I think he understands what it takes to get through a full season. I expect great things from him.

Some people have been surprised by Josh Freeman. You’ve watched him from the start. What’s your take on the young fella?
RB: I knew it from the beginning. Coach (Raheem) Morris was high on him before the draft, (rating) him as good as anyone on the board that year. … You could see from his college tape he had the physical ability as well as the confidence — the moxie — to just go do it and not be afraid to make mistakes. He made a bunch of them his rookie year, but he learned from them. The best thing he did was have a great offseason the following year.

Would you lobby for Aqib Talib to be back?
RB: Absolutely I want him to be back. He’s a great teammate, he always has been. He has quirks in his personality that (don’t) always agree with people, but as far as a teammate, he’s as good as anyone. He’s talented, man. He allows us to do things that we’ve never been able to do before. We’re invested in him. We have a lot of responsibility for him, even though he has to be responsible for himself.

You’re a 15-year veteran, so you’ve seen them all. Who is the best receiver in the NFL?
RB: The way I would answer that is to think who I would want on my team so I wouldn’t have to play against them. Two guys stand out. I think Andre Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL. He’s big, fast, has great hands, is physical and does everything you expect out of a possession and big-play receiver. The other is (Carolina Panthers WR) Steve Smith. I know he had a down year, but he didn’t have the right guys throwing to him. I don’t think those guys understood how to best use him. But I don’t want to play against him.

The NFL Network is unveiling “The Top 100: Players of 2011″ this offseason. Who gets your vote?
RB: To me, it has to be a quarterback. It’s the most important position, he touches the ball roughly 50 percent of the game. I’ve been on a bunch of teams that didn’t have great quarterbacks, so I understand the value of the position. You can’t win without good quarterbacks. To me, the position has to be No. 1. And, to me, that’s Peyton Manning. He does the most for his team. There’s always the argument with him and Tom Brady, but Peyton is Indianapolis. If you take him off that team, they’re not the same, I don’t care who you plug in there.

You have a Super Bowl ring, and your career numbers will stack up with the best. But you’ve played on many teams — especially later in your career — that didn’t win. Does that take the luster off your career?
RB: It’s nice that you asked that question, because my career didn’t start that way, it started off on winning teams. From 1997-2001, we were perennial (winners). But for the next 6 to 7 years we made the playoffs once or twice. So maybe it has. Tampa is not a huge market. A lot of things I’ve done in my career have gone pretty unheralded. People who cover us don’t even believe I’m a good player, and that stings sometimes. The fact I’ve done it for 15 years, and done things not a lot of guys have done, should speak for itself. But sometimes it doesn’t. All I can do is go out there and continue to prove who I am and who I’ve always been. The people who love me, love me, and that’s all I care about. Hopefully history judges me favorably.

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