Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber is disappointed that trouble has again found Aqib Talib, but Barber stands by the player he calls the best cornerback he’s ever played with. That’s high praise considering Barber played with former Bucs stars Donnie Abraham and Brian Kelly during parts of his 14 years in Tampa Bay.
But aside from being a great cornerback, Barber also believes Talib is a good person despite the fact that he has had some well-documented anger management issues – the latest of which has led to an indictment in Texas on aggravated assault charges.
“Much like [my brother] Tiki – and I know Tiki well and I’ve known Aqib for three years – he is complex,” Barber said of Talib. “It is too easy to simplify somebody and say they are a thug, he had a bad upbringing and [all that]. Some of that upbringing is part of what he is, but that is not who he is. I know him to be a great teammate. I know him to be a fun-loving, kind of gregarious guy. He likes to be the center of attention and he likes to have fun.”
Cornerback E.J. Biggers, who replaced Talib as the starting left cornerback for five games last year due to Talib’s opening day suspension and torn hip tendon down the stretch, agrees with Barber that Talib is a great teammate.
“Aqib is a guy I love to death in the locker room and on the field. He’s a good player, a team player,” Biggers said. “He helps us and helps anybody who needs his help. I know some people think differently about him, but to me, I love that guy to death on and off the field.
“I really don’t know too much about the situation, but Aqib has taught me almost everything I know out there. I tell everybody that he and Ronde are probably two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Aqib can run with anybody and he can stick with bigger receivers and he can stick with smaller, quick receivers, too. He’s probably one of the most athletic DBs I’ve ever seen. Just watching him and listening to him, he has one of the smartest football I.Q.s I’ve ever been around. He’s just like Ronde.”
Barber, who is known as being one of the most cerebral and instinctive players in Tampa Bay’s history, agreed with Biggers’ assessment of Talib’s football knowledge.
“He does Shake Weight all day and doesn’t take a note in the meetings, but yet knows everything that’s going on,” Barber said. “[His football I.Q.] is unbelievable, and I have to work at it. He doesn’t work at it. He knows what he has to do on a football field. He just gets it. He understands it. Obviously, I’m doing a couple more things than he is doing, like knowing five positions, but if you ask Aqib what Cody Grimm is supposed to do in Puma, or whatever [the defense is], he knows it. It is unfortunate that a few or a myriad – or however you want to look at it – of incidents away from his profession really cloud people’s opinion of him.”
While Barber lauds Talib’s on-field talents and his qualities as a teammate, he isn’t ready to excuse the behavior of the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2008.
“You can tell him all you want … when I was with him in London I was trying to talk some sense into him,” said Barber when Talib got in trouble for missing curfew after the Patriots game in 2009. “He was screaming because it’s always him [saying] ‘What did I do wrong that everybody else didn’t do wrong?’ Just that deal. You can tell him all you want, but people are who they are. People change because they want to change, but they don’t change because people tell them to change. They don’t change because they have positive influence around them at the office. Aqib doesn’t go home with me. He doesn’t go home with Raheem [Morris]. He’s not going to dinner with Jimmy Lake every night. He’s not seeing that type of influence.
“You can’t [keep saying], ‘Aqib you can’t do that.’ [He’ll just say] ‘I know. I [messed] up. My bad.’ I don’t know how many times he’s said ‘My bad’ to me or Raheem. He understands. He understands the things he’s doing wrong and that he should have had better judgment … but that is how he is wired, man. However he grew up – and I don’t know how it was – but he has that instinct to survive and sometimes it can lead to him making bad decisions. You’re always responsible for everything you get yourself into. If you are around good people trouble usually doesn’t find you.”
The courts will decide whether or not Talib will face jail time, but even if he is cleared of his charges, the Bucs star cornerback could be faced with a lengthy suspension from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended Talib for the season opener in 2010 after he allegedly punched a cab driver on the last night of training camp in 2009.
“We’re prepared [to play without Talib], but you don’t ever want to play a season or even a game without that guy,” said Barber. “He’s that good. He changes things. He takes [receivers] away and we’ve never had that in Tampa. He can literally take a guy away. He had his mental lapses last year and gave up some plays, but we’ve never had a guy like him. He’s a gamer. Not only is he big, physical and fast, he’s technically sound, which a lot of guys in this league just aren’t.
“A lot of players that people say are great just aren’t technically sound. Aqib is pretty technically sound and he’ll always be a good player because of that. When you get older or you are not feeling as good as you want, your technique takes over. Aqib understood that already in his third year. You don’t want to play without that guy, but in my second year they didn’t think I was going to be ready to play until Anthony Parker and Donnie Abraham got hurt. If we are without him, it’s Myron [Lewis] and E.J. [Biggers’] opportunity. All you get is an opportunity. That’s all you can ask for, really. They’re going to get it.”
Talib, who already has 15 interceptions in his first three years in the NFL, is coming off his best season after notching a 50 tackles, 11 passes defensed and a career-high six interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown at Arizona last year. Biggers, who had a career-best 53 tackles, 12 pass breakups and his first career interception, will battle Lewis, a third-round pick in 2010, for not only the Bucs’ nickel cornerback situation next year, but for the right to start at left cornerback as Talib’s replacement for any games he might be suspended for in 2011. Rookie Anthony Gaitor, the team’s seventh-round pick this year, is also expected to compete for playing time.
While Barber wants to line up opposite Talib because his presence will make the Bucs a more formidable defense, he has confidence in the team’s other cornerbacks and knows that they will step up as they did last year as Tampa Bay was 4-1 in games that Talib did not play in.
“Optimistically, I am hoping that this all goes away and he’s proven innocent,” Barber said. “I can’t speak for him because I wasn’t there. None of us were there. I don’t know what the hell happened. The courts will decide that and Roger Goodell will decide if he has a suspension. I remember talking to Mark [Dominik] last year and he said, ‘You can never have too many good cornerbacks.’ That’s been his philosophy and he drafted someone to replace me eventually – whenever that is – but Anthony Gaitor is a heck of a player. You always have to have a cog for whatever issue – legal or injury. The beat has to keep playing. The band can’t stop playing because the drummer gets hurt. Somebody has to step up and play.”
A report earlier this spring in the St. Petersburg Times claiming that Talib was “all but done” in Tampa Bay was sharply refuted by Morris, who indicated no decision had been made to release Talib. Barber agreed that any notion of cutting Talib was a bad idea.
“It’s doing a disservice to him,” Barber said. “I remember Torrie Cox when he had his couple of legal issues [with DUI arrests]. I went to bat for him and a bunch of other guys went to bat for him with Bruce [Allen]. When Torrie came back he said, ‘Man, I don’t have anything but football.’ A lot of guys don’t realize that until they are put in that situation and they are on the edge of having to go on with life without football. I’m not saying football is the end-all, be-all, but it’s what we’ve done forever – since high school and college. Then you get to the pros and it becomes your profession and it could end because of something you’ve done, it’s a reality check.
“I think you discredit the family-type atmosphere we have when you say, ‘Just get rid of the guy.’ We drafted the guy. We are somewhat responsible for him. Yeah, he’s had some issues, but he’s a teammate. He’s a teammate. I know it’s professional and it’s a business, but I don’t want to see anything bad happen to him now or 20-30 years from now.”
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