TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris said CB Aqib Talib expected greatness before he even played an NFL game.
"The day he stepped foot on this campus, he thought he was the best," Morris said. "There's no doubt about it, we had a Pro Bowler and possible Hall of Famer and whatever sitting in that room. It didn't matter, he was the best corner the Buccaneers ever had, in his mind."
And after Talib's game Sunday against the Cardinals, the league is taking notice.
Talib, who had two interceptions against Arizona, was named NFC defensive player of the week. One pick was returned for a touchdown, and the other came with time running out and the Cardinals driving for a potential winning score.
Talib has five interceptions despite missing a game because of a league suspension. He ranks second in the NFL behind Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall (six).
Falcons QB Matt Ryan said Talib's physical attributes (6-1, 205 pounds) and athleticism make him unique.
"He's long, he's a big corner," Ryan said. "He's got great ball skills. When the ball is in the air, he plays it as well as wide receivers do."
Talib, a third-year pro, faces a matchup with Falcons WR Roddy White, the NFC's offensive player of the month for October who is coming off an 11-catch, 201-yard performance. White (6 feet, 212) told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution he believes the aggressive Bucs secondary could be susceptible to deep balls. And he didn't seem fazed by having to face Talib, as opposed to veteran CB Ronde Barber.
"On the other side of the ball, you have a guy who's made (five) Pro Bowls," White told the paper. "Talib, he (hasn't) made (any). I'd rather go against Talib than the guy who watches film and is real crafty and knows that if the inside receiver goes to the flat, then he's going to jump the inside route."
UP FRONT: C Jeff Faine and RT Jeremy Trueblood returned to practice Wednesday in limited fashion, but their status for Sunday is in question. Faine has missed three weeks with a quad injury, and Trueblood was out last game after suffering a knee injury against the Rams. Morris said the team will see how the players progress before deciding if they're ready to return.
If Faine and Trueblood can't go, the Bucs will rely on G Ted Larsen, C Jeremy Zuttah and T James Lee, who have stepped in and played well the past few weeks.
"I'm wondering if I should pat them on the back or tell them that's what we expect," Faine said of the backups. "… I've seen James Lee's progression through his career since he's been here, and he's just gotten better and better. I think he's a guy who will challenge for a starting spot at some point in his career and not a guy who is just going to be a perennial backup."
Morris said first-round pick DT Gerald McCoy did not practice, having suffered a neck strain in the weight room. FB Earnest Graham (hamstring) and WR Sammy Stroughter (foot) didn't practice, either.
ROSTER, ETC: The Bucs were one of at least three teams to put in a claim for former Chargers LB Shawne Merriman, who was awarded to the Bills, according to ESPN.com. … The Bucs signed rookie DT Al Woods from the Steelers practice squad, and rookie DT Doug Worthington, a Steelers seventh-round pick, was signed to the practice squad. Woods, part of LSU's 2007 national title squad, was a fourth-round pick of the Saints.
Times staff writer Stephen Holder contributed to the report.