Tampa Bay hadn’t invested a first-round draft pick in a cornerback since 1986, but that streak ended Saturday when the Buccaneers used the 20th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft to select Kansas CB Aqib Talib.
An early-entry junior, Talib notched 13 interceptions, 43 passes defensed and 162 tackles in 34 games (32 starts) at Kansas.
As a senior, Talib notched 66 tackles and five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
While he is considered a ballhawk and playmaker, Talib is also thought of as a bit of a gambler in coverage, which means he can at times be vunerable to big plays made by opposing offenses.
Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said coaching and the presence of veterans like Ronde Barber, Phillip Buchanon and Eugene Wilson, among others, should help Talib become a more disciplined player.
“He adds to a group that’s pretty strong already,” said Morris. “We lost a big player in Brian Kelly and what he did for us over the last 10 years. We have to get another guy that has the ability and potential to do that. I’m just looking forward to coaching him. He’s got a lot of talent and ball skills. He’s an instinctive player.
“He makes some big-time plays but you see some big-time mistakes. We’ve got to get him to make the splash plays more consistently and not allow the splash plays. That’s my job.”
Talib believes he'll fit well into Tampa Bay's Cover 2 defensive scheme, which is coached by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Morris, who had the league's No. 1 pass defense in the NFL last year.
“We started to play a lot of Cover 2 in my last year at Kansas,” said Talib. “I kind of got introduced to the Cover 2 in my junior year and Coach Kiffin is the master of it. With the help of Coach Kiffin and Raheem Morris I think I’ll be okay. I’ll learn the scheme and make a lot of plays, too.”
The 6-foot, 202-pound Talib is considered an exceptional athlete. In addition to recording a 38-inch vertical jump at the Combine, Talib was used sparingly as a wide receiver at Kansas, where he caught nine passes for 224 yards (24.9 avg.) and five touchdowns.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he will consider using Talib in his version of the West Coast offense, depending on his performance on defense.
“He’s a corner. He’ll be strictly a corner, and we’ll use offense as a motivation for him," said Gruden. "You know cover that guy I’ll let you play offense. Cover him some more and we’ll give you a reverse or we’ll do something with you. Not to compare anybody but we had a guy in Oakland that we drafted early that played offense and defense, and just bought life to our football team, and we’re hoping Aqib Talib in the long run might have those traits. But he’s here to play corner, he’ll settle in and compete there with the corners that we do have, and we think we got a lot better today.”
While he returned just two punts for 21 yards (10.5 avg.) at Kansas, Talib, who has good speed (4.40 40-yard dash time), is considered a player that can be used as a return specialist in Tampa Bay.
A consensus All-American and unanimous All-Big Twelve selection as a senior, Talib was the third cornerback selected in the 2008 NFL Draft behind Leodis McKelvin, who was the 11th overall pick for Buffalo and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who went to Arizona with the 16th overall pick.
The Talib selection could be viewed as controversial by some due to Talib admitting at the Combine that he tested positive for marijuana three times while playing at Kansas, according to Pro Football Weekly.
Talib told the Tampa media on Saturday that part of his life is behind him.
“it was a phase I went through as far as being a young man and being out on your own,” said Talib. “I went through a little phase in college and all of that stuff happened two and a half years ago. I went through it and learned a lot from it. All of that stuff is behind me.”
This marks the second straight year that the Bucs have used their first-round draft pick on a defensive player. Tampa Bay selected Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
The Bucs were also believed to be targeting a wide receiver in the first round, but they ultimately went with Talib. As it turns out no wide receivers were even selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
“Yeah my guts are ripped out of my body right now," Gruden said when asked about drafting a defensvive player in the first round. "You know, I’m no different than our fans. I fall in love with some of these guys. You get relationships with them you study their tape their profiles follow their progress on a daily basis you drive home at night and wake in the morning some days and envision what a great thrill it would be to coach some of these guys. That’s why they have general managers that make the tough calls and I certainly support Bruce all the way on this, and I know our staff is excited as a whole. We got a guy with a lot a juice a lot energy I think you’ll see that when you meet him. These are tough picks that’s for sure.”
Like Talib, Adams had admitted at the Combine to smoking marijuana while in college. The Bucs did their homework on Adams before drafting him last year and Gruden said the same investigative work was conducted for Talib.
“He came out and I believe was honest with what occurred I’m not going to live in the past. I’m going to live in the future," said Gruden. "I trust this kid, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to prove it. He understands exactly what we expect of him. He’s excited of proving that he has all the right stuff. And I would really rather not dig up this kid’s past. He’s admitted to certain things and people want to research that are welcome to do it. I think when you meet Aqib Talib you’re going to see an upbeat guy that is thrilled to death to be in the Nation Football League and a defense that can utilize his skills and maybe be on a football team where the offensive staff can use his skills also, but I’ll let Aqib speak okay on those matters. He’s a man. I certainly back him and have tremendous confidence in him as do our scouts and coaching staff and our entire organization.”
Tampa Bay hadn’t used a first-round pick on a cornerback since it selected SMU’s Rod “Toast” Jones in the first round of the 1986 NFL Draft.
Talib thought he might be selected by Tampa Bay since Gruden had told him during a previous meeting that Talib reminded the head coach of CB Charles Woodson, who was a 1999 first-round pick with the Raiders under Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen.
"Coach Gruden told me I reminded him a lot of Charles Woodson and that if he had an opportunity to coach a player like Charles Woodson again he didn’t want to pass it up,” said Talib. “I just felt that if I fell to the Bucs that I’d go to the Bucs. It played out and it happened.”
The Bucs have a need at cornerback due to the fact that Ronde Barber is 33 and Buchanon, Wilson and Sammy Davis are each in the final year of their respective contracts.
“Yeah he’s going to play corner and a creatively this the kind a guy that you’ve seen him play offense he’s averaged 20 yards a catch. He can return punts I believe. He’s had a lot to do with the explosion of Jayhawk football back onto the scene. In the Orange Bowl I believe he was the MVP of that game he just has a knack for making plays on both sides of the ball and on special teams. To put him in a room with Ronde Barber and the defensive backs that we have: Tanard Jackson, obviously Jermaine Phillips, Philip Buchanon we feel like we got a lot better today in an area we feel like we need to keep a thumb on.”
Kiffin also pointed out the importance of adding quality players and depth to the cornerback position due to the fact that Tampa Bay plays a significant amount of nickel defense.
“When we go back to our nickel package, last year we ran 1,082 plays and 42 percent of the time we played nickel, which means three wideouts in the game," Kiffin said. "So we had to match up with three corners. You really need a really good third corner. He’s one snap away from being a starter, but he’s going to play close to 50 percent of the time [anyway]. Now, you also need a fourth corner. You can never have enough corners. We’re playing the Saints on opening day. They run three wides on the field on the first play of the game. The third corner goes in and starts. Now what if someone gets hurt in preseason? [The nickel corner] becomes the starter in base defense. You don’t just need three, you need four.”
Talib said he plans to come in and compete for playing time and possibly even a starting job in Tampa Bay's defense, which ranked No. 2 overall in 2007.
“That’s the plan,” said Talib. “I’m a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. I’m going to come in and work hard to make an impact right away.”
To learn more about Talib view Jenna Laine's On The Clock segment on the Kansas standout by clicking here.
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