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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No Talib? Bucs say it's no problem

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 07:25 PM
TAMPA -

If they so much as flinched a year ago, it seldom, if ever, showed. Maybe that's why they didn't flinch Tuesday.

As it became more likely they could start the season without ace cornerback Aqib Talib, who spent the day explaining his latest run-in with the law to NFL commissioner and conduct judge Roger Goodell, the Buccaneers responded with what amounted to a shrug of the shoulders.

What would Tampa Bay do if Talib were suspended by the league for a second time in as many seasons?

"That's easy for us,'' coach Raheem Morris said. "It's just next man up, next guy out of the box and let's play ball. Here we go. We've done that before.''

They did it rather well, too. Though Talib led the team with six interceptions last season, the Bucs went 4-1 without him in the lineup. That helps explain their causal reaction Tuesday.

"We'll be ready,'' said cornerback E.J. Biggers, the 2009 seventh-round draft pick who replaced Talib in the starting lineup for those five games last season. "Whatever decision we have to make, the coaches will prepare us and we'll be ready just like we were last year.''

Last season started without Talib, the result of a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct policy after the Florida Highway Patrol accused him of assaulting a cab driver in 2009. The season ended the same way after a hip injury knocked Talib out for the last four games.

If the 2011 season also begins with Talib out of the lineup, it likely will be a result of his involvement in a March incident in Garland, Texas, in which police say Talib fired shots at his sister's boyfriend and tried to hit him with a handgun.

Talib is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of five to 20 years in prison. Talib's trial is scheduled for March 26.

Talib could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bucs officials, however, expect Goodell to rule before the season starts, which means they have three weeks and two preseason games to make a decision on a would-be replacement. On Tuesday, Morris sounded like a coach who planned to take all the time available to make a call.

"It's kind of early for me to say who it's going to be,'' Morris said. "E.J. has (filled in) the last couple times it happened and he's done a nice job, but these guys in camp are all fighting.

"D.J. Johnson, Elbert Mack, Myron Lewis — we'll give those guys a chance to compete, too. We're still in a training camp mentality here, still in that training camp mode.''

Biggers worked in Talib's place during Tuesday's workout, and Mack, who had an interception return for a touchdown in the Bucs' loss to the Patriots on Thursday, served as the third or "nickel'' corner.

That alignment could change, though, especially now that Lewis is back after missing several days with a sore hamstring. The emergence of seventh-round pick Anthony Gaitor could be a factor, as well.

"Gaitor has been outstanding on some of his knock-down passes,'' Morris said. "Those guys are really giving us great depth and great energy. It's just a really good group.''

Each member brings a different strength. If he's forced to, Morris said, he may lean on more than one to help stop Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in the Sept. 11 season opener.

"We have a bunch of different things to throw at him,'' Morris said of Johnson, who ranked ninth in the league in receiving yards (1,120) and second in touchdown receptions (12) last season.

"D.J. Johnson is a long corner that we have, so we'll see what he can do. And I don't know exactly where (Myron Lewis) is, but that would be a nice matchup. It would be a nice matchup with Biggers and his quickness, too. And I could always put the old crafty veteran (Ronde Barber) on him.''


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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