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With or without Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay Buccaneers might look at cornerbacks in NFL draft

TAMPA — Aqib Talib sits at home, his football career more or less on hold.

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Meanwhile, for the Bucs, the show must go on. And the curtain rises with next week's draft.

With, arguably, their best defensive player facing a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon, there is an obvious question hanging over One Buc Place:

Does cornerback become a need because Talib might not be available for the foreseeable future?

The answer, general manager Mark Dominik said, doesn't matter. It appears that under any scenario, drafting a cornerback (or two) is on the Bucs' to-do list. The only issue, it seems, is when they select one.

"(Talib's arrest) doesn't really affect me other than it just reinforces my opinion that you can never have enough cornerbacks in the National Football League," Dominik said Thursday. "We have, right now, eight selections, and who knows where we're going to use them and at what positions?

"But that's a position that I'm always going to put high on my priority list."

Still, whether Dominik concedes it or not, the need to address the position has been exacerbated because of Talib's situation. The Bucs could opt to cut the often-troubled but immensely talented cornerback when the lockout ends (transactions are not permitted during it), or commissioner Roger Goodell could suspend the 25-year-old fourth-year player under the league's personal-conduct policy.

Either way, the odds are good Talib's career will be interrupted for multiple games after his involvement in a shooting in Garland, Texas. The arrest comes on the heels of Talib's suspension in 2010 for a battery arrest.

Dominik would not speculate about the case or state if he believes Talib would be available this season.

But Dominik left the impression that if there's a cornerback deemed to be a difference-maker on the board early in this draft, the Bucs would not hesitate to pick him — Talib or no Talib.

"You have to take the draft as it comes to you and take the player that you think can best fit your football team," he said. "That won't change regardless of a specific event or a specific person."

It's hard to disagree with Dominik's cornerback theory. With increasingly high-powered offenses and potent passing attacks dominating the NFL, defending the pass is as critical as ever.

As he observes the league as an analyst for Monday Night Football, this fact has been reinforced to former Bucs coach Jon Gruden.

"You have to have a number of defensive backs that can match up and cover these people," Gruden said. "You don't ever have enough of them. You get a guy that gets hurt, you get a guy that has an equipment problem or whatever, and you have to have three or four corners available every Sunday."

At least.

That's particularly true when you're a team such as the Bucs, who employ the nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six) packages upward of 50 percent of a game's defensive snaps.

So what might the Bucs do to address cornerback in this draft? There's near consensus that LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara will be gone long before the Bucs select at No. 20 overall. According to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, the wise move would be to hold off because the remaining talent isn't worthy of a first-round pick.

"There's a lot of good corners," he said. "They can find one pretty much from the second round on."

Free agency, which won't take place until after the lockout ends, is an option for the Bucs, too.

As for cornerbacks already on the roster, the team's top returners are 36-year-old Ronde Barber and 23-year-olds E.J. Biggers (who has played 16 games over two seasons) and Myron Lewis (who played 10 games as a rookie last season). After that, things get thin with little-used fourth-year player Elbert Mack and a handful of undrafted prospects.

"I thought Biggers did play very well for us," Dominik said. "He held his own against some of the best.

"Myron Lewis got a lot of experience last year.

But using Dominik's philosophy that you can never have too many cornerbacks, it certainly seems Barber, Biggers and Lewis aren't enough. And with Talib's outcome likely to remain unknown for some time, don't be surprised if the Bucs begin reloading during next week's draft.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

NFL draft

When: Thursday (Round 1), April 29 (Rounds 2-3) and April 30 (Rounds 4-7)

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

Breaking down

the cornerbacks

• Top free agents

• Top college prospects

• The Bucs' situation

Coverage, 3C

With or without Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay Buccaneers might look at cornerbacks in NFL draft 04/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 9:34pm]
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