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Raheem Morris makes case for Aqib Talib to return to Tampa Bay Bucs in 2012

Aqib Talib intercepts a pass against Tennessee on Nov. 27 and returns it for a touchdown. The fourth-year cornerback has brought back both of his interceptions this season for scores.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Aqib Talib intercepts a pass against Tennessee on Nov. 27 and returns it for a touchdown. The fourth-year cornerback has brought back both of his interceptions this season for scores.

TAMPA — Aqib Talib has a trial looming in March on charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon, and injuries that have cut each of his past two seasons short by about five games. But there is no reason to think the shutdown cornerback will be shut out of One Buc Place in 2012.

At least not according to Bucs coach Raheem Morris, whose future also is in doubt following eight straight losses.

Talib, 25, who has one season remaining on a five-year deal that will pay $2,152,500 in 2012, was placed on injured reserve Monday after aggravating a hamstring strain in the first quarter of a 31-15 loss to Dallas on Saturday.

"Aqib is a really good football player," Morris said Tuesday. "If we can get Aqib back healthy and get him going, get him stronger, get him faster, get him better — all those things he'll do this off-season, we can't wait to … get him back."

Talib spent the final five games of 2010 on IR with a hip problem. This year he played four snaps Dec. 4 against Carolina, was inactive Dec. 11 at Jacksonville and lasted a few series Saturday.

Talib is scheduled to stand trial in Dallas County in March. He is charged with assault with a deadly weapon stemming from his involvement in a shooting in Garland, Texas, in the spring. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with Talib in August, and cleared him to play this season but will monitor his case. A guilty verdict would likely result in a suspension.

"Obviously, that's going to come up in time," Morris said of Talib's legal problems. "The league has put their part into that and did their due diligence as well as us and we know we have to let that play out a little bit and be ready to deal."

How big of a loss is Talib to the Bucs?

When healthy, Talib has routinely been asked to blanket the best receiver man-to-man. This year he had a career-low two interceptions, returning both for touchdowns.

"Obviously, it's huge," Morris said. "Aqib gives you the luxury of letting him track the best wideout and he does a nice job of doing that throughout the season.

"He scored two touchdowns this year. … He actually dropped a few he got upset about. He probably had his best tackling season. He was more physical than he had been throughout his career, was really starting to develop on that side of the ball and really getting those guys going with this new man-to-man mentality they developed over there and was really the driving force for that."

E.J. Biggers, who has filled in for Aqib the past two seasons and is the third cornerback, will start Saturday at Carolina. The Bucs also will use rookie Anthony Gaitor and Myron Lewis, a former third-round pick from Vanderbilt who was inactive last week.

Biggers indicated Tuesday he's just keeping Talib's seat warm.

"Him and Ronde (Barber) are my big brothers in the locker room," Biggers said. "Those are the guys I look up to and I'm just going out there to do the things he does each and every week and that's to play hard and try to be one of the best corners in the league.

"That's the main goal, as an NFL player, you just want to get better each and every day. Ronde, Aqib and Tanard (Jackson), watching how they practice, playing games, there's nothing left to do but get better. The confidence those guys play with an intelligence and aggressiveness, it just trickles down to everybody in our secondary, everybody on the team."

Despite his off-field problems — he was suspended the first game of 2010 for assaulting a cab driver — Talib's biggest challenge has been staying healthy.

"To lose him, for the team and his guys, is tough," Morris said. "I know it hurts him more than anything. He's one of those guys who tried to fight through this hamstring and go out there and finish the season because he has no quit in him, and unfortunately, wasn't able to do it."

Raheem Morris makes case for Aqib Talib to return to Tampa Bay Bucs in 2012 12/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2011 6:27pm]
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