LAKE BUENA VISTA — Bucs rookie Aqib Talib might be playing like an NFL veteran, but he has struggled to conduct himself like one.
Before training camp, coaches say, the cornerback was late to meetings. He got into an argument and shoving match with a teammate at the NFL rookie symposium. He even missed the team flight to Canton, Ohio, when the Bucs' rookies visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Talk about bad impressions. Lee Roy Selmon, the only Buc enshrined in Canton, accompanied the rookies on the trip from Tampa.
"He's not a bad kid," defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said.
"He's just a wild child."
Neither Morris nor Talib is making excuses for his mistakes. Talib, 22, says that on the occasions he was late, it was just a matter of sleeping in.
But coach Jon Gruden indicated Saturday that the team has fined Talib heavily — and repeatedly — for violating rules.
"We've handled it in a stern way," Gruden said. "Some of the mistakes the guy makes are innocent mistakes. They're not malicious. But all I think that has happened to him is his eyes are wide open now.
"He understands when he's not here, he's a letdown to Derrick Brooks. You're letting down all these Bucs fans. We're going to back up our end. We're going to pay you well, okay? You've got to earn that money now, or I'll take it all back."
The Bucs' eyes were wide open when they made him the 20th overall pick in April. (On July 25, he signed a five-year, $14-million contract with $8.2-million guaranteed.) At the scouting combine in February, he admitted to testing positive for marijuana three times while at Kansas.
But the Bucs believe the worst of Talib's problems are behind him.
"He might have some other issues pop up here just from being 12, or however old he is. But I don't worry about that (college) issue," Morris said. "I think he loves football too much to jeopardize it that way."
Talib said he knows he will be under more scrutiny throughout his career because of where he was drafted.
"You definitely have a little more weight on your back being a No. 1 pick," Talib said. "Everybody is accountable. If someone was a free agent, he'd get the same treatment as I got. It goes for everybody. You've got to be accountable for yourself."
On the field, Talib is an immense talent. At 6 feet 1, 206 pounds with Erector Set arms, he is one of the biggest cornerbacks to play for the Bucs. He also might be the most athletic, with 4.48-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a 38-inch vertical leap.
As he becomes more comfortable in the Bucs' defense, his talent shines through. Last week he had two highlight-reel interceptions, including one that would have been returned for a touchdown.
Talib is competing with veteran Phillip Buchanon for the starting left cornerback spot. At the least, he is almost certain to enter games on passing downs, when fellow cornerback Ronde Barber moves to the slot.
"He's got a little knack. He's got a little swagger about him," Morris said. "He carries himself like he's been playing in this league for years."
But off the field, Talib has more work to do.
Last month he had an altercation with Cory Boyd, the Bucs' seventh-round pick from South Carolina, at a finance seminar during the rookie symposium.
Reports of what happened were exaggerated, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said. Talib is very popular among teammates because of his charismatic personality and smile.
"The great thing about Aqib is how eager he is to learn," Buchanon said.
But combined with the other mistakes, it paints a bad picture. Morris said the Bucs have to take the good and work on the bad.
"You know what you drafted. You know what you've got in him," Morris said. "He's going to be a little immature. It's my job to make him understand he's the focal point and no matter whether he's playing well or not, they're looking at him. I think he's starting to get it.
"I've seen a bunch of changes in his habits; just being at camp and having the professionalism he's having. I've watched him get a house, talk to a financial adviser, wanting to move his Pops down with him — a lot of things you want to see as far as him growing and developing, you see. Now, of course, he's going to go out and have some fun. Something may happen — knock on wood — tomorrow. But I do see some changes."
Gruden said he hopes his prized cornerback has turned the corner.
"It's a privilege for all of us being in the NFL," Gruden said. "The commissioner is watching. The world is watching, and the team is watching. Fans are watching.
"He's a great kid. I think he's going to be just fine."