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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Talib dilemma: Will he be available?

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:48 PM
TAMPA -

The new secondary coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't wait to bring out the best in fifth-year cornerback Aqib Talib.

But Ron Cooper doesn't know when, or even if, he'll get the chance.

While players dispersed Thursday for a six-week respite at the end of a three-day mandatory minicamp, Talib and his legal team continue to prepare for a June 25 trial in Dallas on a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The Bucs acknowledge they remain uncertain whether they can count on Talib's presence this fall.

"Any time you have a guy that there's an off-the-field situation that could affect his on-the-field situation, you're concerned,'' first-year head coach Greg Schiano said. "The thing that I can tell you is that since I arrived here Jan. 26, he's been awesome.''

Despite repeated interview requests, the Bucs declined to make Talib available during the minicamp, though Talib on Tuesday expressed willingness to speak.

Talib's pro career has been erratic since he was drafted out of Kansas with the 20th overall pick in 2008.

He has returned four of 17 career interceptions for touchdowns, but he was slowed by hamstring and hip injuries the past two years. He was suspended by the league for the opening game of the 2010 season for his involvement in an altercation with a St. Petersburg cab driver.

"I love him,'' Cooper said. "I think he's got it all. His attitude's unbelievable. He's a funny person and he works hard. I think he's dedicated and I think he wants to be special. …He wants to be great.''

Even if Talib is exonerated at trial, he faces potential sanctions by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in a gun incident 15 months ago in Garland, Texas.

If Talib is unavailable this fall, the Bucs might be forced to scuttle plans to shift veteran cornerback Ronde Barber to safety. Tampa Bay added corner Eric Wright from Detroit in free agency, and third-year pro E.J. Biggers returns.

Former third-round pick Myron Lewis and second-year pro Anthony Gaitor are also in the cornerback mix for Schiano, who coached defensive backs for the Chicago Bears in 1998.

"You always as a head coach have to have those plans, just in case,'' Schiano said. "I hope like heck we don't ever have to have to dust them off. We have a plan — I'm hoping we don't need it.''

Playing in a division with marquee wide receivers such as Carolina's Steve Smith, Marques Colston of New Orleans and Atlanta's Roddy White and Julio Jones, Talib prides himself on tight coverage.

At 26, the 6-foot-1 corner is eager to work with a new coaching staff and establish himself as a Pro Bowl corner.

"He's got size and he's talented,'' Cooper said. "I'm totally pleased with him. I didn't know much about Aqib before I came here and I'm glad he's on our team.''

But for how long?

Talib's rookie contract expires after the 2012 season, and before making a commitment to him, the club must decide whether he fits Schiano's profile of a Buccaneer Man.

"I can only judge people since I've been involved,'' Schiano said. "I can't stick my head in the sand, but on the other hand, he's been extremely focused here, doing everything that we've asked. I'm pleased with that and I hope everything can just kind of sort itself out and we can get back to a normal situation.''


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833

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