TAMPA, Fla. Gray skies and a refreshing summer shower greeted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they walked off the practice field Wednesday morning following another grueling training camp workout.
It was a welcome relief from the stifling heat and humidity. And it had to feel especially good to cornerback Aqib Talib considering the heat of a different sort hed faced for more than a year, with the dark legal cloud hovering over his head.
Last month, prosecutors in Texas decided to drop a felony weapons charge against Talib, stemming from a domestic dispute involving his sister and her boyfriend in March 2011. That effectively ended ongoing speculation about the fate of Tampa Bays standout yet often-embattled defensive back, who had previously been in trouble with the law in 2009 over charges he punched a St. Petersburg cab driver, a situation that resulted in a settlement and one-game suspension.
The end of his Texas woes removed the possibility of a suspension by Commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL boss had been waiting to see how the scheduled trial played out in June before ruling on the case. In an instant, the skies returned to blue in Talibs world and the uncertainty over his status faded.
Now, his mind is strictly set on playing football. And you could detect an air of renewed enthusiasm in his voice Wednesday as he talked about putting his troubles in the past.
It comes with age, said the former first-round pick out of Kansas. You learn from your mistakes. And now you put it behind you and get to focus on football.
Talib is thoroughly enjoying that, and he has earned high marks from new head coach Greg Schiano all spring for his hard work, good attitude and dedication. Schiano sung his praises again Wednesday.
I think hes done a very good job, he said. I think hes trying to do some things that are new. And sometimes at this point in your career that might be met with some resistance not at all (with him).
Hes trying to do what we ask him to do, hes very coachable. And hes getting in better and better football shape, which is important at corner, because thats your deal. You run all day and nobody really cares, but there are five or six plays that your whole day is based on, yet youre running all day, so its not easy.
After the 4-12 misery of last season coupled with the hamstring injury that cost him the final two games 26-year-old defender simply wants to get back down to business in his fifth NFL season. And Schianos all-business approach suits him fine.
Yeah, definitely, its a jog everywhere, full speed to the ball, he said. Well definitely be in shape.
In 2011, his interception total dropped to a career-low two after picking off six in 2010, five in 2009 and four as a rookie in 2008. Talib is eager to re-establish his dominance in a new-look secondary.
Hell be back in his usual left corner spot under Schiano, but free agent Eric Wright, a former mainstay of the Lions and Browns, will take over on the right side. Ronde Barber, heading into his 16th season, will shift from his perch at right corner to free safety and patrol the middle with rookie strong safety Mark Barron.
I think its going pretty good, he said. Everybodys just got to stay healthy and we have to keep everybody in, so we can keep the same group for 16-plus games.
One aspect of practice Talib has enjoyed is the presence of Pro Bowl free agent Vincent Jackson, whom he has to defend in seven-on-seven drills along with incumbent go-to wide receiver Mike Williams. The caliber of the pass-catchers has provided a constant challenge to the secondary during workouts.
I cant speak for him, but for me, going against a guy like Vincent Jackson (allows me) to work against a prototype receiver in the league every day, he said. And I get to switch it up with Mike Williams. Hes definitely a great receiver, too. His name is going to ring bells in this league as well. Im getting good work every day.
Talib also talked up last years leading receiver, Preston Parker.
He comes out here and works thats the main thing we ask, that everybody just come out here and work, he said. P is going to come out here and know his stuff, Hes growing up as a player. I knock on his door and go in his room, and hes in there with his playbook and learning his stuff.
Just as Talib learned some valuable lessons himself, and appears ready for the next chapter.
NOTES: Schiano said Wednesdays workout wasnt quite up to the crisp level of the last one, with more fumbles than he wants to see: It wasnt as sharp as we like it. You know, we introduced something new again. Theres a new variable going in: situational two-minute offense. Some new third-down stuff went in. But again, I dont care whats going in or what the variables are, the ball cant come out. The ball cannot be on the ground, so we got to get that corrected.
Vincent Jacksons work with other wide receivers has not gone unnoticed among Schiano and the coaches. I think its clear, he said. When you have a guy thats as talented and who works as hard as Vincent works, thats a great combination because its a great example for the guys.
Also drawing praise from Schiano was defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, coming off his second straight season with biceps surgery: I think Gerald has really practiced well. I think hes got elite get-off and when I say that, I havent been around a lot of guys like that, maybe two or three. So I think we just need to keep working him and developing him with the technique thing. I think hed be further along had he not had the injuries.
Bucs quarterbacks are wearing protective braces on their left plant leg during workouts. It is something we require, Schiano said. Thats the position that I think quarterbacks are most vulnerable, that left leg. So since all our quarterbacks are righties, their left leg is braced. Because when you throw the ball and you follow through that leg is standing there, people roll into you. It doesnt guarantee anything, but it gives you a little better chance.