TAMPA — Things could be better for Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib off the field, where he is facing a felony charge in his hometown of Dallas for which he'll stand trial in March.
But the guy bouncing around One Buc Place, trash-talking receivers and baiting quarterbacks, looks like he doesn't have a care in the world.
That's because Talib is back where he feels most at ease: the football field.
It's a place he had not ventured for quite some time, and not only because of the NFL lockout. Sidelined for the final four games of 2010 with a hip injury, Talib was robbed of a chance to play in the season's most critical and contested games.
"It's not good to have to watch those games, man," Talib said this week. "Especially when you're competing to go to the playoffs."
Now, Talib is trying to make up for lost time, even if that has proven to be a process.
"I'm getting there," he said. "I tore my hip flexor. Tore it off the bone. So I just had to let it heal and then slowly but surely get back into working out. But when you're working out in the offseason, you don't really do workouts like this. Now I'm getting used to doing these real long, strenuous workouts. It's getting there. I'm doing good. I think in about a month I'll be there (100 percent).
"I'm not really limited. … There's some soreness there, but it just comes with getting that muscle back strong."
In the meantime, Talib isn't behaving like a guy who suffered a injury of such consequence.
"It's a credit to him," said defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, noting Talib hasn't skipped any practices. "He's easily one of the top competitors I've ever coached. When the lights come on, he's going to be ready to compete."
That's provided his legal predicament doesn't get in the way.
The Bucs remain hopeful that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will allow Talib to play at least until he stands trial for the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, punishable by two to 20 years in prison (Talib will not comment about the case on the advice of his attorneys).
But answers remain elusive because negotiations between the league and the NFL Players Association this week resulted in Goodell retaining the power to personally decide disciplinary measures for violators of the league's personal-conduct policy.
"I know he has to go through a whole bunch of legal stuff and all that jazz, but I don't think anything will happen as far as the league (is concerned)," coach Raheem Morris said. "I don't have any idea of what's going on with the league office.
"But I would think they wouldn't pass judgment until something happens legally. They do a great job up there handling all those situations, and I'm sure they'll handle this no differently."
Talib's absence in 2010 actually helped the team find depth that could turn out to be pivotal for this season.
After his injury, backups E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis took on prominent roles. Talib, who had six interceptions in his 11 games, took great pride in watching them perform, knowing he had played at least a small role in helping groom them.
"I look at the bright spots," Talib, 25, said. "(The injury) gave (Biggers) and (Lewis) a chance to get in the game and play in some games that meant something and really get some NFL experience. … Hopefully that'll be big for us this year."
But neither can boast of being nearly as talented as Talib, by far the Bucs' best pure cover man.
He routinely is assigned to opponents' best receivers and is as intuitive a player as you'll see. And he continues to take his knowledge of the game to higher levels.
"It makes the game slow down that much more when you really understand things like route concepts and understand what the NFL is all about," he said.
The outcome of Talib's legal issues will be decided later. So, too, will his availability to the team.
All the while, Talib vows to continue his road back.
"What I can control is, when the alarm goes off in the morning, I get to my meetings on time and do what I have to do," he said. "I come out and practice hard, get my body right. That's the stuff that I can control. I'm just concentrating on that."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377.