Buccaneers CB Aqib Talib said he has put his past off-the-field issues behind him and is focused on getting better. Talib has the goal of breaking Ronde Barber's records and being the best corner in Bucs history. PLUS, Bucs return man Clifton Smith said that he has no after effects from his concussions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib has had two star-crossed years to open up his NFL career. On the field, Talib has had instant success, but has seen it tarnished by his temper and some altercations.
Last year, Talib shutdown some of the best receivers in the NFL like the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson, New England Patriots' Randy Moss, and Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith. Talib held Moss to five catches for 69 yards and Jackson to one catch for one yard. Smith was held to four catches for 82 yards in two games against Talib in 2009.
Off-the-field issues have put Talib in the headlines more than his productive play. He got into legal trouble after allegedly assaulting a cab driver at the end of the preseason in 2009. That came after Talib swung a helmet at teammate Donald Penn in an OTA (organized team activity) in the spring of 2009. Talib also got into a fight with former teammate Cory Boyd at the NFL Rookie Symposium after being drafted in 2008.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Talib has resolved all of his legal issues and said he has moved past the maturity issues during his first two years in the NFL. According to Talib, the off-the-field problems were not exclusive to him.
"Definitely, I feel like our whole team has grown," said Talib. "Our whole team had problems whether it made the news or didn't make the news. We all come together, and work together. We put that stuff behind us and we're focused on the year that's coming up."
As a rookie in 2008, Talib was the Buccaneers' third cornerback and totaled 27 tackles with four interceptions that he returned for 32 yards. In 2009, Talib tied for the team lead with five interceptions, and led the Bucs with 17 passes defensed. He totaled 69 tackles with two tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery. Talib had a career-high three interceptions on October 4 at Washington, and finished with a personal-best five interceptions in 2009, which he returned for 99 yards.
Last year Talib, 24, was consistently matched up with the other team's best receiver. Teammate Ronde Barber said that if Talib stays with Tampa Bay, he believes that Talib will break his franchise record of 37 interceptions.
"He needs direction all the way around," Barber said in a Pewter Report Conversation in January. "I don't psychoanalyze guys. That's not my job. When you tell him something and you look him in the eye and he says, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah' or if he says ‘I messed up" then he gets it. It's there. He has an opportunity. I kind of compare him to Charles Woodson. Charles was like that early in his career in the first couple years he was in and out. Then he goes to Green Bay and he's been the best defensive player in the league the last four years now. I like to think of myself having a decent stretch with my 12 years. Well his last four years have been unbelievable. I think Aqib will be like that once he grounds himself and finds that this is serious business.
"In 10 years, I won't be the Bucs' all-time leading interceptor. It will be Aqib Talib depending on whether he stays on the pace that he's on and stays with the team. He's got 10 times the ball skills that I have."
Talib said that he would like to break his Barber's records and is focused on that instead of the off-the-field issues that have plagued him in the past.
"That's definitely the goal – to break all the records and be the best corner that ever came through here," said Talib. "We just put all that past stuff in the past. That's why it is called the past. We put it behind us and move forward. If you keep looking back at it that's when it comes back to haunt you, all you can do is put it behind you and move forward in life."SMITH SAYS HE HAS NO ISSUES FROM CONCUSSIONS
Buccaneers backup running back and kick returner Clifton Smith said that he has no lingering effects from the two concussions he sustained during the 2009 season. Smith had his first concussion on October 18 at home against the Carolina Panthers, and it caused him to miss one game.
The second one came on December 6 at Carolina, and Smith was placed on injured reserve after that game. After Wednesday's OTA, Smith answered whether he feels any lingering affects from the concussions and if he had to cut back on any offseason training.
"No. I know no such thing as cutting back. I let loose," said Smith. "In the second half of the second Carolina Panthers game I let it go, and left it all behind me.
"The first one was a lot worse. The second one I pretty much remembered everything and knew what was going on. The first one was a lot worse. I just had to pick the biggest guy on the field and take him out."
Smith is an active boxer, and said that the concussions have not caused him to stop boxing in the offseason.
"I go boxing two or three times a week," said Smith. "I can't worry about that stuff. I just go out there and keep working hard. I'm working on my conditioning and my hand speed and hopefully one day you see me in the ring."
The Bucs originally signed Smith, 24, as an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State in 2008. Smith (5-9, 190) was on the Buccaneers practice squad for part of the 2008 season. After Dexter Jackson failed as a returner partway through the season, Smith replaced him and went on to make the Pro Bowl after a stellar nine games.
In 20 career games, Smith has returned 67 kickoffs for 1,894 yards and averaged 28.3 yards per kick return. He returned a kick 97 yards for a key touchdown at Kansas City in 2008. On 46 career punt returns, Smith has averaged 12.1 yards per return including a 70-yard touchdown return at Detroit in 2008.
Last season, Smith played in 11 games before ending the season on injured reserve after sustaining two concussions. Both concussions came against the Carolina Panthers in Week 6 and Week 13. He averaged 29.1 yards per kick return and 14.1 yards per punt return. Both averages were better than his averages in his Pro Bowl season in 2008 when he averaged 10 yards per punt return and 27.6 yards per kick return.
In his career has carried the ball 12 times on offense for 47 yards and has six receptions for 28 yards. Smith had some issues with fumbling in his career. He had three fumbles last season after fumbling the ball four times as a rookie. The fumbles have prevented Smith from getting more playing time on offense, but the third-year pro is still in the competition at running back.
“I’m taking a lot of reps at running back right now,” said Smith. “We are switching every rep. We get a new running back in there every rep. I’m just trying to run with every chance that I get."
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