Raheem Morris admitted that he became a better secondary coach on Saturday.
Why? Because he was given one of the most talented cornerbacks in the 2008 NFL Draft when Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib became Tampa Bay’s first-round selection. Talent has a funny way of making coaches look good in the NFL.
If Talib stays out of trouble – he admitted to testing positive for marijuana two and a half years ago – he could become a big-time cornerback at the pro level. That, of course, is why Tampa Bay spent a first-round pick on the 6-foot-1, 206-pound ballhawk Jayhawk, who intercepted 13 passes and broke up 43 more during his three-year stint at Kansas.
In a PewterReport.com exclusive, Morris was asked what qualities stood out about Talib.
“The first thing is his ball skills,” Morris said. “His ball skills are probably tops in the draft. He has great ball skills.
“The next thing you’ve got to say is that he has great instincts. You can say what you want to say about him gambling in coverage and being a guesser, but the thing is he just knows [when the ball is coming].”
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden likened Talib to cornerback Charles Woodson, whom he selected in the first round of the 1999 draft. As for Morris, he had a different Pro Bowl cornerback in mind when it came to Talib comparisons.
“His size is impressive,” Morris said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy with his size and speed on this team. The funniest part is that I put on my scouting report – and I took it off because I got scared – I was saying he could come in this league and be like a Chris McAlister – a big left corner that stands up and plays for years. [Talib] could play whatever corner. I just said left because that’s what Chris played. [Talib] is just one of those guys who excites you.”
The size, the speed, the playmaking ability – Talib has it all from a physical standpoint. He is oozing with athleticism, running a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day with a vertical leap of 39 inches.
But Talib needs to work on his tackling technique and needs to take the guesswork out of playing cornerback and let his instincts and preparation take over. But for Morris, he is set to take a much simpler approach when it comes to his prized rookie.
“The first thing I need to get him to do is learn how to practice,” Morris said. “He doesn’t know how to practice. Coming out of college, none of them do.
“The next thing is preparation. That’s my part. I’ll start teaching him how to study, what he’s studying, what he should be studying and how to do it, and then go to apply all of that good stuff he’s been doing in college. Once you get that stuff down, then you have a good player.”
Talib, who was a junior entry, scored a 17 on his Wonderlic, which isn’t the highest score in the world, but he should have no problems picking up Tampa Bay’s coverages in time, especially since KU played a mix of Tampa 2 and man coverage. While he will be given the opportunity to come in and compete for a starting job this season, the presence of veterans such as Ronde Barber, Phillip Buchanon and Eugene Wilson take some of the pressure off Talib to see the field on defense during his rookie year.
“T-Jack (Tanard Jackson) learned that fast last year and it was amazing,” Morris said of his rookie safety in 2007. “Hopefully we have the same stuff done here [with Talib]. At this point, the talent is even at this level. You’ve got to go figure out other ways to go get it done. It’s going to be above the neck at this point. That’s where [the coaches] come into play.”
“I actually looked at that play the other day,” Morris said. “All good cornerbacks get beat by guys that they don’t think they should get beaten by. The reason is because you don’t respect them enough and you don’t really know what you should know or the urgency wasn’t there on every play. That’s my job. I have to make him play with urgency every single snap because he has a lot of talent. That’s what I have to do, Coach Kiffin has to do and Coach Gruden has to do.”
So what did Talib say about getting beaten by Nelson, who went to Green Bay with the 36th overall pick as the third receiver taken in the 2008 NFL Draft?
“He told me he didn’t respect Jordy and he didn’t think he was that good at first,” Morris said. “He kind of fell asleep on him. The year before, he picked off a pass to win the K-State game [at KU]. He just fell asleep on the play. Everybody in the draft has asked him about that play, so by the time he got to us, he got a kick out of it. He actually won the game at the end of that one [at K-State], so he kind of made up for it.”
Morris, who was Kansas State’s defensive coordinator in 2006, has an appreciation for Talib’s skills, having seen them in person. And after allowing Nelson’s 68-yard touchdown catch last year in Manhattan, which gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Talib scored a touchdown of his own as a wide receiver to tie the score at 14-14 with 11 seconds left in the first half. Talib caught eight passes for 182 yards (22.8 avg.) and four scores on offense as a junior.
Then on fourth-and-8 with K-State embarking on a potential game-winning drive, Talib came up with a game-clinching interception. That was one of five interceptions for the KU star last year and perhaps his biggest outside of his 60-yard interception return for a touchdown against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. That play, in addition to a 39-yard return of a blocked punt, earned him MVP honors for the bowl game.
By using the first first-round pick on a cornerback since selecting Rod “Toast” Jones out of SMU in 1986, Tampa Bay hopes Talib eventually becomes the MVP of its secondary.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org