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Worry for volatile Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib grows

Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib argues with field judge Boris Cheek on Sunday about a pass interference call Cheek made against the Bucs’ Myron Lewis in the second quarter. The penalty set up a Ravens touchdown.


Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib argues with field judge Boris Cheek on Sunday about a pass interference call Cheek made against the Bucs’ Myron Lewis in the second quarter. The penalty set up a Ravens touchdown.

One question: Were you surprised? When word got out that a Buccaneers player had a loud, verbal confrontation with one of the game officials on the way to the locker room Sunday evening, were you surprised it was Aqib Talib? Because to me, that's the most relevant issue. Not that someone lost his cool. And not that someone might have berated an official two hours after a call had been made. The issue is that Talib has a history of emotional outbursts. And the concern is how his story might one day end.

Look, I'm not criticizing the guy. On the contrary, I'm worried about him. He's a talented young man with a future that would probably make most of his peers in the NFL envious.

But during his relatively short time in Tampa Bay, he has a pattern of ugly incidents that should make you wonder if Talib isn't heading toward a problem he cannot so easily walk away from.

There was the fight with a teammate at a rookie symposium in 2008. There was the altercation with Donald Penn at an offseason practice in 2009 when Talib swung his helmet and mistakenly bashed Torrie Cox in the face. And there was the punching of a cab driver last year that led to Talib's arrest, an out-of-court financial settlement and entry into a pretrial intervention program.

In each of these situations, the Bucs talked about misinterpretations or extenuating circumstances.

And that might have been the case in each.

The incident with the game official Sunday certainly has two sides. And it is undeniably true the official acted inappropriately himself. When Talib made a vulgar comment about a questionable call, the official should have walked away and filed a report with the league. Instead, he made an equally vulgar comment about Talib's performance and stepped in the direction of the player.

That was when Talib threatened to punch the official before teammates intervened and led him to the locker room.

Is that a big deal?

Not in the grand scheme of things. No punches were thrown. No scars were left behind. And if just about any other player in the Bucs' locker room had been involved, the story would have no legs at all.

But considering Talib's history, don't you have to have some concern? I mean, aren't there enough incidents that you have to believe Talib's maturity is in doubt? Don't you worry that one of these showdowns will escalate to a more frightening degree?

"He didn't do anything wrong. He was just in conversation," coach Raheem Morris said of Sunday's incident. "So I'm not going to sit here and act like Aqib did anything wrong, or the official, because I'm not into that. That's between those two men. Whatever happened, happened. Keep it moving."

I like Morris. He's funny. He's passionate. He's sharp. And I think his body of work in 2010 can be stacked favorably beside any other coach in the NFL.

But I think he is wrong about this. I think in his desire to protect one of his players, he is harming him. By dismissing another incident with Talib, he is essentially saying the young man does not have to grow up.

And I worry that's a dangerous position to take.

You see, Talib has been in some trouble beyond the fights and the shouting matches. Nothing major, just a bunch of infractions in college and in his first season with the Bucs. It was enough with the Bucs that former coach Jon Gruden has insinuated Talib was assessed some hefty fines during his rookie season.

But for the most part, folks have always been willing to overlook Talib's temper and impertinence because he has been such a splendid football player. And Talib has come to expect those free passes, so why should he change?

The problem is that you get so used to stepping over the line, you may not realize when you've gone too far.

Two years ago, when Talib had the fight at the seminar and was getting in trouble for being late to meetings and missing a team flight, a Bucs assistant coach argued that his rookie was not a bad kid. Just a wild child, he said.

He insisted Talib had changed his habits and was growing and developing as a player and a person. Of course, the coach added, Talib was still going to go out and have fun. And that — knock on wood — another incident could be right around the corner.

Morris was right to be concerned about Talib two years ago.

I hope he still is today.

Worry for volatile Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib grows 11/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:18am]
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