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Talib Is Disrespecting Morris
Despite admitting to testing positive for marijuana three different times and being suspended two games in 2007 for violating team rules at Kansas, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers invested their 2008 first-round pick in cornerback Aqib Talib.
After watching the athletic defensive back intercept eight passes in just 22 games (nine starts), one can see why the Bucs decided to take a chance on Talib.
The Bucs landed a ballhawking Jayhawk with the 20th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, and many NFL insiders will tell you that Talib was available for the Bucs to select only because of his off-the-field issues, not due to concerns regarding his potential as an NFL player.
Plenty of teams would love to have Talib, and his eight picks and rare athleticism, but very few are envious of the Bucs and the problems they have had to deal with since drafting the early-entry junior.
While he leads the team in interceptions over the past two seasons, Talib also leads the Bucs in fines and incidents.
Let's review Talib's brushes with trouble since he became a Buccaneer in April of last year.
Just months after being drafted by the Bucs, Talib allegedly was involved in a fight with former teammate, running back Cory Boyd. The altercation took place at the NFL Rookie Symposium, of all places, which was created and funded to help rookies avoid trouble and give new players guidance for on-and-off-the-field success.
Talib apparently didn't take the NFL-mandated function seriously, and other incidents have ensued.
Six months ago, Talib injured another teammate, Bucs cornerback Torrie Cox, by swinging his helmet at left tackle Donald Penn, whom he had gotten in a skirmish with on the practice field during an organized team activity.
Unlike the incident from the previous year, Talib's helmet-swinging act took place under new head coach Raheem Morris, who punished Talib and the entire team by making the players run sprints and gassers in a conditioning session disguised as a special teams workout.
At that time, Morris, who is the youngest head coach in the NFL at 33, was critical of Talib, but also defended the talented cornerback.
"We all have trouble controlling our emotions," Morris said on May 21. "Any time you play this violent of a game you're going to have some controlling your emotions issues. I have my own issues. That's where the coach steps in and helps them. He has to grow from it and learn. Each individual action you take you have to take something from it and learn. That's what I think he's doing, and that's what we're developing.
"You saw him grow. Last year was an off-the-field incident. This year was an on-the-field incident. If he grows as much as he did from the off-the-field incident then I'm going to love it. We're all going to love it."
If Talib has learned to control his emotions on the field, his actions suggest he hasn't learned to keep them in check away from the football field.
On the night the Bucs broke training camp in August, Talib was arrested after he allegedly struck cab driver David Duggan while the vehicle carrying Talib and two other Bucs players – Cox and linebacker Angelo Crowell – traveled down Interstate 275 in Pinellas County.
Morris and Bucs general manager Mark Dominik expressed disappointment in Talib's arrest, but insisted the team would work with the league to decide what punishment, if any, would be handed down.
"That's what we're trying to do – help him. It might not seem like it, but that's what we're doing," Dominik said of Talib on Aug. 20. "We're going to continue work with him, and if he needs counseling we'll get him counseling. We're going to continue to work and try to catch his attention. I think you have to do that, and that's what we'll do.
"Aqib is a very outgoing, outspoken young man. Certainly, he needs to mature a lot more. That's all I'll say."
As far as we know, no punishment for the cab driver incident has been handed down by the Bucs or the NFL, but just over two months after Talib was arrested, the state attorney's office filed misdemeanor battery charges against him for the alleged cab driver incident that took place on Aug. 19.
The charges were filed against Talib just a few days before the Bucs departed Tampa for London for their overseas game against the New England Patriots.
Just days after the state attorney's office officially alleged that he broke the law, Talib broke the team's post-game curfew in London and reportedly got into a heated, profanity-laced argument with Morris in the team's hotel lobby, the latter of which the head coach denied, or at least downplayed.
"Like I told you guys the other day, it has been handled internally," Morris said of Talib's tardiness. "A couple of guys went out to dinner with their wives, some with their teammates. They came back late to the hotel after the game curfew. They've been dealt with by myself, by our organization, internally. The rumors about confrontations, they are what they are. You let them go out there, you let them hang. Myself and Talib, we have a great relationship. I don't think we've ever had an argument. Now I've yelled at him before, but we actually have never had an argument before.
"I've never ever once been disrespected by Aqib Talib in my life. Never."
Morris should be commended for the patience he's displayed with Talib, but he's dead wrong in saying he's never been disrespected by the cornerback. He has probably never intentionally done it, but Talib has disrespected Morris and the Buccaneers with his actions three different times this year, and those are only the incidents that became public knowledge.
Morris is Talib's head coach. He's considered a friend by many of the team's players, including the defensive backs, who grew close to Morris during his stint as defensive backs coach with the Bucs before being promoted to defensive coordinator and head coach.
Talib's actions are extremely disrespectful to Morris, his authority and what he's trying to help the Bucs accomplish. Morris and Dominik have generously attempted to help Talib, but to no avail.
A parent tries to help his/her child, but when the child doesn't listen they ultimately are disciplined. The same goes for a teacher-student and employer-employee relationship. One Buc Place should be no different.
The 0-7 Bucs need all the help they can get, but at what point is Tampa Bay going to hand Talib a stiff penalty as opposed to a slap on the wrist? Perhaps that time will come when Morris feels disrespected, which is long overdue.
Players Continue To Hold Themselves Accountable
Say what you will about the 0-7 Buccaneers. They're the worst team in the NFL if you're judging by records alone.
However, it's difficult to believe the Bucs are the only winless team in the NFL and losers of 11 straight based on the atmosphere in Tampa Bay's locker room at One Buc Place.
Granted, the Bucs are coming off a bye week and much-needed break away from the reality of 0-7, but the players somehow remain upbeat and optimistic.
The blame for Tampa Bay's woes can be spread around One Buc Place, from ownership, head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik all the way to the bottom of the totem pole.
But one thing Morris and his coaching staff deserve credit for is keeping the players together and focused in a season that couldn't get much worse.
"The one thing when you are evaluating our team and watching the tape, there's hustling, and there isn't any give-up," said Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates. "There aren't guys loafing. We've seen tape of guys over the years and you can tell when they're in total give-up mode because there's no hustle whatsoever. It isn't like that here. We're hustling to the football. We're taking good pursuit angles. We're still allowing way too many big plays, and we've got to eliminate that.
"In the years I've been doing this, you can judge a team by the concentration in meetings and walk-thrus. These guys are on top of the attention to detail. I haven't seen anybody not paying attention."
The media has given players the opportunity to trash the team's coaching staff, on and off the record, but that hasn't happened, or at least not based on Pewter Report's conversations with players.
One Buc Place doesn't have a lot of finger pointing taking place and the locker room certainly isn't divided. Instead, the majority of players have held themselves accountable, which isn't difficult to do when your offense (28th) and defense (28th) rank near the bottom of the league.
The players, not the coaches, have committed penalties, dropped passes, blown assignments and turned the ball over during Tampa Bay's 0-7 start.
Many would take issue with this sentiment since it could come across as defending Tampa Bay's coaching staff. The Bucs coaching staff deserves blame along with the rest of the team, but the guys in the locker room are blaming themselves for the team's shortcomings, evidenced by the fact that the players have gone as far as holding player-only meetings this season.
"We've had meetings," said Bucs center and team captain Jeff Faine.
When asked to elaborate on what was said in the player-only meetings and which player(s) initiated them, Faine, who was critical of Tampa Bay's practices earlier in the year, opted not to share too much information.
"That's why it's a players-only meeting, because the people that needed to hear it heard it," said Faine. "We've had those meetings this season. At this point, we're kind of past the point of talking about it and discussing it. It's a matter of doing it right now. Putting it into action and executing are the types of things that can help us win at this point, not player-only meetings."
Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks this season, shed some light on which players have addressed the team this year.
“If Antonio Bryant has something he needs to say he can go to Coach Morris and ask him for a couple of minutes after our team meeting with the players because he has something he needs to get off his chest,” said Wilkerson. “Or it could be Kellen Winslow or Jerramy Stevens, people like that. It’s basically anybody that has something they want to get off their chest and express to the team. The coaches have no problem with that. I think they encourage it.”
Locker rooms are no different than classrooms. They are filled with different characters, and not all of them get along. However, when a player speaks their teammates listen.
“Not to take anything away from our coaches or our head coach, but when it comes from a player it’s different than when a coach says something because the player is out there with us,” said Wilkerson. “When a player speaks I think it sets in a little deeper than when a coach talks to us.”
Morris hasn't been shy about calling out players in team meetings, so what were the players that called for the players-only meeting(s) hoping to accomplish?
"At the end of the day the players are on the team. Coaches call the plays and manage the team, but at the end of the day you're playing for your teammates," said Faine. "It's very seldom players are just playing for their head coach. You're playing for the guys around you day-in and day-out."
Saints Getting A Serious Return On Investments
There's something to be said for being frugal in the age of free agency in the National Football League.
Spending sprees have backfired on teams like the Washington Redskins, who arguably field one of the most talented teams in the league on paper each year, but rarely have that translate into success in games.
The Bucs have pointed to the Redskins when defending the fact that they entered free agency with $60-plus million in salary cap space, more than any other team in the league, yet still sit at $30-plus million in cap room.
Tampa Bay had serious salary cap problems for the first half of the decade, especially in the years that followed Super Bowl XXXVII, so one could certainly understand the Bucs' inability to sign big-name free agents. It's also important to note that a few free agent signings that inked long-term, lucrative deals backfired on former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, including tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie, and running back Charlie Garner.
However, one team that was quite active in free agency during the offseason certainly isn't living in regret right now. That team is Tampa Bay's NFC South division rival – the New Orleans Saints.
The addition of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has helped the Saints' defense improve from 23rd overall last year to 11th in the NFL right now.
But it's not just Williams' aggressive defensive system that has turned New Orleans' defense around. The players the team added to its roster have also played an integral role in the Saints' undefeated start.
The Saints were quite busy in free agency, re-signing middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and inking free agent safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Jabari Greer to contracts.
Vilma, who would have played outside linebacker had he landed in Tampa Bay, signed a five-year, $34 million deal that included a $17 million signing bonus.
Greer, who has two interceptions for the Saints and leads the team in passes defensed with 13, signed a four-year deal worth $23 million.
Despite having more cap room than any other team in the league and needs at the cornerback and linebacker position, the Bucs opted to pass on both Vilma and Greer in free agency.
The Bucs, who embarked on a youth movement this offseason, also passed on four-time Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper in free agency, electing instead to re-sign safeties Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen to one-year deals worth $1.25 million and $1.1 million, respectively.
Phillips, 30, was moved to linebacker and back to safety before going on injured reserve. Allen, a special teams captain, performed poorly in his place before Tanard Jackson returned from a four-game suspension.
Sharper, 33, signed a one-year contract worth $1.7 million with the Saints, and has given New Orleans quite the return on that investment, notching a league-leading seven interceptions, three of which he's returned for touchdowns.
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Jim Bates' defense, which currently ranks 28th in the NFL, could have used all three of those players, and the team had the cap room to land them.
The Bucs offense, which also ranks 28th, could have also used wide receiver Devery Henderson, who was another player the Bucs expressed interest in signing in free agency before he re-signed with the Saints.
Henderson inked a four-year, $12 million deal, which certainly was less expensive than the five-year, $23 million contract Michael Clayton signed with Tampa Bay in the spring. He has since caught just 11 passes. The speedy Henderson has hauled in 23 passes for 358 yards (15.6 avg.) and scored one touchdown since re-signing with the Saints.
The Bucs weren't big spenders in free agency, and they have a 0-7 record to show for it. The Saints were aggressive in free agency and took some risks in signing several free agents. New Orleans has a 7-0 record to show for it.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates on the youth and inexperience on Tampa Bay's defense leading to mistakes.
"We've played half a season in the NFL, and when you consider the OTAs, training camp, preseason and our first seven games we've played a full college season. So yes, it's youth, but we need to get out of that. Youth; you can use that as an excuse for so long. Now it's time to go out and play."
Bucs Own Longest Losing Streak In The NFL
The 0-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost 11 straight games dating back to the 2008 regular season. The Bucs are just 1-14 during that stretch if you count the team's 2009 preseason (1-3).
As promised, Pewter Report will keep track of this stat as long as the Bucs remain winless in 2009. With St. Louis' win over Detroit during Tampa Bay's bye week, the Bucs now have the longest losing streak in the NFL.
Tampa Bay's longest losing streak in franchise history came from 1976-77 when the Bucs started 0-26.
Tampa Bay – 11