Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/20/11
TAMPA, Fla. The Tampa Bay Bucs prepare for the Carolina Panthers this week with a familiar face from the defense missing and one from the past back in the fold. Gone is cornerback Aqib Talib, relegated Monday to injured reserve due to a hamstring injury re-aggravated in the 31-15 loss to Dallas last Saturday night. Back is journeyman tackle Jovan Haye, a member of the Bucs from 2006-2008 and a player drafted by the team he'll visit Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C. Talib wasn't present in the locker room Tuesday morning prior to practice at One Buc Place, but Haye held court at his locker thankful to have a new job in the NFL and with a franchise that spawned so many good memories for him. The fact that he's joining a Bucs squad in a serious nosedive eight straight losses and nine in the past 10 games doesn't bother him in the slightest. The former starter, who notched six sacks in 2007, simply hopes to help out in any way he can, whether it's on the field or sharing insights with some of the younger players. For a guy who was just let go by Detroit after a brief stay, the call from the Bucs was like an early Christmas present. "Basically I'm coming off the street," he said. "I was in Detroit for a week, so you could basically say I'm coming off the couch. It feels good." The 6-2, 277-pounder knew his days as Lion were numbered with the return of suspended tackle Ndamukong Suh, and tackle Nick Fairly returning from an ankle injury. But he had no idea he'd be back in Tampa, where he was a key member of some excellent veteran units guided by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. He returns to a team at the front end of a youth movement, and a defense getting battered week after week. "That's natural . . . that's the league," he said. "At some point, you've got to get younger. . . . It's just a tough year for them, but it's a good group and they'll bounce back. . .. (The defensive line) is good now. In due time, they'll be right where they need to be." Though only two games remain on the schedule, Haye welcomes the chance to be a mentor. "I don't want to be a father figure or anything like that, but seven years (in the league) I've seen some stuff and been through some battles," he said. His path in the NFL has been a circuitous one. After a standout career at Vanderbilt, Haye was drafted by the Panthers following his junior year in 2005. But after playing in only two games in 2006, he was cut by Carolina and picked up by Cleveland. The Browns released him a week later, but the Bucs liked what they had seen in Haye and signed him in late October 2006. After seeing part-time duty during Tampa Bay's 4-12 campaign, he earned the first-team job in 2007, starting in all 16 games and finishing with 68 tackles and a half-dozen sacks as the Bucs rebounded to 9-7. His final season with the team came in 2008, when he started 14 of 15 games, with 33 tackles and no sacks during another 9-7 finish. Still, Haye had made enough of a name for himself to sign a four-year, 16-million deal with the Tennessee Titans in March 2009. He played two seasons in Tennessee, starting 15 games in 2009 and collecting 32 tackles and credited with half a sack, and amassing 31 tackles in primarily a backup role last year. The Titans cut Haye at the end of camp this summer, and he was out of the game until the Lions brought him in to fill their recent void. But being on the outside trying out for teams and hoping to land a new job hasn't bothered him. "It's not tough at all," he said. "If it wasn't this, it wouldn't be my story. I love living out this story. God has paved the way and I'm just living it out, with whatever opportunity I get. I told myself I'll get 13 years, and I'm going to get 13. It didn't start off in a glamor position. I had to work my way and had some bumps and hit some other bumps. What road do you know is smooth?" Haye's tenure with the Titans may not have been a long one, but he has no regrets especially from a personal perspective. "It wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be, and part is my fault, but it was a good experience, but I met my wife and two kids so I can't get mad," he said, smiling. Haye's easy-going perspective and veteran presence could be a nice addition to the locker room, especially amid the pressure and frustration of a prolonged losing streak. "At the end of the day, this is a job," he said. "But there are people out there struggling and in less fortunate positions. So you're making your money, but you're just blessed for every opportunity. . . . You just enjoy the ride. These guys are going to get better. They're looking for hopefully a big win this weekend against Carolina." Haye will get a big gift this weekend when his family, still living in Tennessee, joins him on Christmas day the day after he returns from playing the Panthers. And if things go well, the Hayes may be staying in Tampa for more than a short stint. "I'm just thankful to be back here," he said. "These are the guys who gave me my first shot. And I know what I can do down here and hopefully I'll get the opportunity." Haye joins a roster that features another ex-Titan tackle, Albert Haynesworth. Their career paths are intertwined. When Haynesworth left for his 100-million contract with the Redskins in 2009, Tennessee went after Haye. "You want to know the funniest thing about that?" he said. "The day I traveled to Tennessee, I'm at the airport and getting ready to go down to baggage claim. Albert walks right past me and he gives me that look. And I was like, 'That's funny. You're leaving and I'm coming.' " Now they're both on board, with a veteran touch the youngest team in the NFL needs more than ever.
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