With the possibility of Aqib Talib being lost for part of the season, Raheem Morris isn't concerned. E.J. Biggers, who replaced Talib last season after an injury, performed well and is up for the challenge if called upon.
While everyone at One Buccaneer Place is hoping for the best regarding Aqib Talib’s potential suspension by Roger Goodell, it remains a very real possibility. But if Talib ends up missing time head coach Raheem Morris and Talib’s potential replacement E.J. Biggers have confidence Tampa Bay won’t miss a beat.
“It is like an injury for me,” Morris said. “It’s next-man-up. I don’t even look at it that way. Next guy out of the box. It’s the reason you practice, the reason you practice for depth, the reason Mark Dominik drafts and steals corners from people. You know we prepare for anything. We want to be the deepest team in the league; the youngest team in the league. Hungry – go out and play – next-man-up theory.
“I don’t have that mentally weak approach. Next-man-up theory. I have no concern at all.”
While most assume Biggers is next in line, Raheem Tuesday said the backup job is still wide open.
“Kind of early for me to say who that will be,” Morris said. “E.J. [Biggers] has been out there competing. He has been doing it the last couple times this happened. He has done a nice job. But these guys all in camp are all fighting. Dominique Johnson, Elbert Mack. We got Myron Lewis coming back today. We have a chance to let those guys all compete. We are still in training camp mentality, training camp mode. But we have to make it through the rest of training camp first.”
"It has been really been tough [competition]. D.J. Johnson has been going out there making plays for us. Elbert Mack made a huge play for us last week with the interception return. All those guys have had some great knock-down passes. The young rookie, seventh-rounder, [Anthony] Gaitor has been outstanding. He has had to step up on some big-time third downs. Those guys are giving us great depth. And they really give us great energy … I’m just fired up to see those guys compete the next two preseason games.”
“Whatever the coaches decide, everybody is going to be ready whoever it is,” Biggers said. “I’m just trying to do anything I can to help this team in anyway they need me. The coach has the utmost confident in me. The players, the staff, the general manager, the entire organization have the utmost confidence in me. That just makes it that much easier when I go out there and play each Sunday.”
The Bucs went 4-1 with Biggers starting in place of Talib with the only loss coming at home against Detroit, a 23-20 defeat in overtime. Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson had a season-high 10 catches for 152 yards against the Bucs and was covered by Biggers for most of the game. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the Bucs will be facing Johnson and the Lions in the 2011 season opener.
“We’ll be ready. Whatever decision we have [from Goodell],” Biggers said. “We’ll be ready just like we were last year.”
Biggers got his first NFL start in place of Talib in the 2010 season opener when the star cornerback was suspended by Goodell for being arrested and charged with assaulting a cab driver on the last day of training camp in 2009. The Western Michigan product had his first and only career interception against Cleveland in the fourth quarter to help Tampa Bay come from behind to win 17-14 and start the season 1-0.
Biggers has a healthy respect for going against a player of Johnson’s stature and standing in the league. There is only so much a player can learn in the film room by watching his opponent. The fact that Biggers has gone up against Johnson before has him more prepared to face him in round two on September 11 if called upon.
“It’s a lot different,” Biggers said. “Film is going to cover little things, but playing a guy on grass – there’s nothing like that. Nothing compares to that. It’s great. I love it. I’ll be ready when called upon. I’m doing anything I can to help our team. We have a great guy in the room in Ronde [Barber], Aqib and everybody. I just tell everybody those guys taught me the things I’m doing out here today. I tell everybody that my mentors are two of the best corners in the league (Barber and Talib).”
The third-year cornerback finished the 2010 season with a career-high 53 tackles, 12 pass breakups and one interception, and is ready to build on those numbers in 2011.
“Just being on the grass and being out there playing with some of the best receivers in the NFL, with some of the greatest of all time, competing and getting better [was great],” Biggers said. “Just learning from your mistakes in the offseason and watching film of some of the things I did last year with concept routes and learning and being more patient. The first year going out there, everything is kind of moving fast. Now things have slowed down a bit and you kind of see things a little different.”
Even though Talib’s presence on game days would demote Biggers back to the role of the nickel cornerback and mean less playing time, Biggers hopes Talib doesn’t miss any games due to a suspension.
“No doubt,” Biggers said. “I’m ready for him to be back tomorrow. Aqib and Ronde are the starters no matter what.”
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