A healthy Aqib Talib reported to Tamp Bay Buccaneers training camp with a rehab program on his mind.
The fifth-year cornerback is determined to rehab his image as a talented player who is undermined by troubling off-field issues.
"I want to be known as Ronde Barber's little protégé,'' Talib joked Friday after the opening practice of training camp under new head coach Greg Schiano. "Now, it's back to playing straight football.''
Talib faced a felony aggravated assault charge in Texas until last month, when prosecutors dropped the case shortly before trial. He was suspended by the NFL for the 2010 season opener after an altercation with a cab driver. He also has battled hip and hamstring injuries the past two seasons.
"You just sleep better, eat better and wake up with nothing to think about but football,'' Talib said of his new singular focus. "Feed the kids some cereal and you're right back to thinking football. You're not worried about calling or having a lawyer text you. …It's a clear mind. That's always the best way to go.''
Talib has a new cornerback partner in free-agent addition Eric Wright, while Barber is shifting to safety after 15 years at corner to team with first-round pick Mark Barron.
"We've got a good confident bunch in the back – there's a lot of ball hogs back there,'' Talib said of the revamped secondary. "Barron's an NFL-ready dude. He killed the conditioning test. He's serious and he's ready.''
They've only just begun
Despite a heat index that topped 100 degrees, fans packed the stands to greet the Bucs Friday morning for their initial practice, which lasted two hours and 40 minutes. Players tried to remain hydrated in the sultry conditions and QB Josh Freeman, who dropped 20 pounds since last season, struggled with nausea.
"It's the first day and it's going to be a little sloppy and sluggish,'' G Carl Nicks said. "The only way to prepare for this weather is to suffer through it.''
Nicks worked up quite a sweat an hour before practice when he took on Tampa Bay's conditioning test after failing to complete it on reporting day.
"I passed it, luckily, and I don't want to do it again,'' Nicks said.
Schiano gave players a couple of five-minute breaks as an unrelenting sun baked the practice fields.
"Guys are working their tails off," Schiano said. "It's not very pretty right now, but it'll get better. That's why you practice.''
From the bleachers
Mike and Carol Dempsey couldn't wait to make the 220-mile roundtrip from their home in Sanford to Tampa for the opening day of camp.
After spending six years on a waiting list, the Dempseys purchased season tickets five years ago and have seen the organization endure a pair of coaching changes amid a rebuilding program.
"I think Schiano's going to be great,'' Carol Dempsey said. "I love discipline and that's what this team needs. I'm all for structure.''
Both expressed disappointment with the meager turnouts at Raymond James Stadium the past few years.
"Being a fan isn't just about the wins,'' Carol Dempsey said. "It's about being behind the team for the losses, too.''
continued to tweak the 90-man roster Friday, signing undrafted free agents WR Landon Cox and CB Marquese Wheaton, and claiming CB Desmond Marrow off waivers from the Texans. …Every healthy player in camp has passed the club's conditioning drills, Schiano said. …Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer and former Bucs punter Mark Royals attended Friday's practice. …LT Donald Penn, hobbled by a calf strain that could sideline him throughout camp, walked gingerly after watching practice.