NFC South: Mike Jenkins

Best Bucs camp competitions

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
With the start of training camp a little more than a month away, it’s time to look ahead to the best battles.

Tight end. Rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be the long-term answer. But he might not get a lot of playing time in the short term. Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t allowed to take part in the offseason program and that could put him behind the competition. Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker all have more experience.

Right guard. Patrick Omameh worked with the first team through most of the offseason program. But he still needs a good camp to win the starting job. Oniel Cousins and Jamon Meredith also could be candidates to start.

Third wide receiver. This one is far from settled. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans will be the starters, but the Bucs need production out of some more receivers. Veterans Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy looked good in the offseason program and the team has high hopes for rookie Robert Herron.

Cornerback. Alterraun Verner is set as one starter. But the other spot figures to be a strong competition between Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins.

Backup running back. Doug Martin is the starter, but the Bucs want to use a rotation. Bobby Rainey, Mike James, Charles Sims and Jeff Demps will all be vying for carries.

Who will be Bucs' nickelback?

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run onto the field next season, they’re going to introduce 12 players instead of the standard 11.

Coach Lovie Smith made that statement Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. He supported it by saying he views the nickel cornerback as a 12th starter on defense. He also views the third receiver as a 12th starter on offense. But this post is about defense, so let’s stick with talking about nickelback.

The Bucs don’t know who their nickelback will be yet, but Smith shed some light on how he’ll make that determination. On paper, Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins. D.J. Moore and Leonard Johnson also could be in line for some playing time.

Although the Bucs of old used to start Ronde Barber on the outside and move him inside for nickel situations, Smith sounded like it’s unlikely the Bucs will follow that route.

“Just think about having to become an expert at two positions,’’ Smith said. “As a general rule, we don’t do that an awful lot. Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside. Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position.’’

Projecting a lineup: Defense

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
We’ve given you projections on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive starters already. Now, let’s flip over to the other side and talk about the defense.

Defensive end: Michael Johnson was signed to a big contract to spice up the pass rush. He’ll start opposite Adrian Clayborn.

Defensive tackle: Gerald McCoy is an All-Pro and should thrive in coach Lovie Smith’s scheme. Free-agent pickup Clinton McDonald could end up starting next to McCoy.

Linebackers: Lavonte David is a certainty on the weak side. Beyond that, there are question marks. Mason Foster has been the starter in the middle the past couple years, but the Bucs signed free agent Dane Fletcher to provide some competition. Jonathan Casillas is the best bet on the strong side, but the Bucs might not be done with that position just yet.

Cornerbacks: Alterraun Verner instantly became the No. 1 cornerback when he was signed as a free agent. That leaves Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to compete for the other starting job, with the loser taking over as the nickel back.

Safeties: This is one area where there won’t be change. The Bucs are in good shape with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron as the returning starters.
With the very real possibility that cornerback Aqib Talib might have played his final game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, possibly, anywhere in the National Football League, it’s time for a little revisionist history.

Think back to the first round of the 2008 draft. The Buccaneers, then run by coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, were sitting at No. 20 (gee, that's a little scary since they're sitting at No. 20 again this year).

When the Arizona Cardinals took cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who grew up in nearby Bradenton, Fla., off the board at No. 16, a lot of people thought the Buccaneers would turn their focus to another local product. The University of South Florida, a relatively young program, had perhaps its first high-profile draft prospect.

That was cornerback Mike Jenkins and he was the favorite among a lot of fans. But Gruden and Allen were looking in another direction. Never known for putting much stock into character during their tenure, they went out and picked Talib, who already had created some background questions while in college at Kansas.

After making the pick, Gruden and Allen came out to the media room and the questions about Talib’s background came up. They said they had done their homework and were comfortable with the pick.

A couple of months later, Talib reportedly got into a scrape with a teammate at the rookie symposium. The trail continued with Talib getting into a fight with a teammate in practice and smacking another teammate in the face with his helmet. There also was that incident in which Talib had an altercation with a cab driver that ended up with him being suspended for the first game of last season.

Talib started only two games in his rookie season, and Gruden and Allen were fired after that. Predecessors Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik dealt with Talib’s flaws and got some bright moments when he was on the field. He produced five interceptions in 2009 and six in 2010. But, now, he’s probably gone.

What about Jenkins? Well, the only real knock on him was he was a little short at 5-foot-10, but the Dallas Cowboys scooped him up at pick No. 25. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2009.

He struggled in 2010, but coach Jason Garrett said he expects Jenkins to bounce back. Did Gruden and Allen make a mistake taking Talib over Jenkins?

Well, let’s put it this way, Jenkins has a much better shot of helping a team in 2011 than Talib.
Five things to watch in Thursday's game between the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints.

1. Reggie Bush. The New Orleans running back might make his return from a broken leg and that could change the entire complexion of an offense that has come on strong in recent weeks. The Saints can put Bush in different spots or in motion and that allows them to free up other offensive weapons. If Bush plays, the Saints probably will ease him in with spot duty and still use Chris Ivory as their main runner.

2. Take advantage of matchups. As they almost always do, the Saints' receivers have a clear edge on Dallas' secondary. Top receiver Marques Colston is likely to draw Terence Newman and that should be a competitive matchup. But the real advantage comes deeper down the line. Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore all rotate in. Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins has been having a rough season and he's likely to be targeted often. Meachem is the deep threat here with three touchdown catches of more than 30 yards. The Saints should be able to wear down this secondary.

3. Student vs. pupil. New Orleans' Sean Payton was an assistant coach with the New York Giants when Dallas interim head coach Jason Garrett was a backup quarterback there. This is only Garrett's third game as a head coach. Payton is a veteran now and his team has had plenty of experience in dealing with the logistical issues that come with a short week. That could give the Saints a big edge.

4. Roman Harper versus Jason Witten. Harper is quietly putting together a nice season. He has one interception and five forced fumbles. He also is used as a blitzer at times. But Harper could get a big challenge from Witten. Although the Dallas tight end isn't putting up his usual big numbers this season, the Cowboys may look to get him more involved in the passing game.

5. Jon Kitna versus time. The Dallas quarterback is 38 and the short week could leave him a little tired. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will try to exploit that. Williams brings the blitz often, but he might bring it even more than usual against Dallas.
Aqib TalibAP Photo/Tony Tribble"I want to be one of the names that you know," said Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Aqib Talib, perhaps the best cornerback most of the world hasn’t heard of, was sitting in a room in One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday, talking about his lot in life.

“When you talk about the best cornerbacks in the league, I just want my name be in the conversation,’’ Talib said. “I never wanted to come to the NFL and just be regular.’’

Talib’s not regular or ordinary these days. He is, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers believe, very much on the verge of being in that conversation. Maybe even on the verge of being the best cornerback in the league. He has three interceptions, which ties him for the league lead among cornerbacks.

“I should have five or six,’’ Talib said. “I’ve had a few missed opportunities.’’

Talib might have missed even a few more opportunities in the season opener. He didn’t play in that game because he was serving a one-game suspension for an altercation with a cab driver that happened more than a year ago. We’ll go into Talib’s troubled past in just a minute, but first you should know a little more about the present and why the Buccaneers are so thrilled with the sudden maturity of their first-round pick from 2008.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
David Wilkinson/US PresswireIn three seasons with the Bucs, Aqib Talib has 12 interceptions, including three this season.
“He said that to you?’’ Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said with a bit of astonishment in his voice. “I love that he said that to you. He should really have six interceptions right now. What’s great about him is he owns up to it.’’

That's what the Buccaneers have been glowing about since this past summer. Privately, a few high-ranking members of the Tampa Bay brass, who weren’t sure Talib would ever grow up, have been claiming he suddenly has. He’s owning up to things, taking responsibility and focusing on football, and that’s why there’s a belief in the building that Talib, 24, could be headed for the Pro Bowl.

The physical abilities? They’ve always been there. They are the reason the Buccaneers took Talib instead of fan favorite Mike Jenkins (a University of South Florida product) with the 20th pick in the 2008 draft. They are the reason the Buccaneers started putting Talib on the best receiver on the opposing team last year.

But all that physical ability was offset by another factor. That factor was Talib.

There were reports about him getting into a physical encounter with a teammate at the rookie symposium before he even got to training camp. There were reports the Bucs had real concerns about Talib’s work ethic and attitude.

Then, there was that incident with the cab driver. It put Talib’s name in the headlines for all the wrong reasons and earned him the suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct penalty.

It’s over now and Talib doesn’t want to dwell on it, but he knows it might have been a turning point in his life and his career.

“For most young men in the world to mature, you’re going to have to go through something major one way or another in order to mature,’’ Talib said. “Of course, getting in trouble had something to do with it. Seeing your daughter grow up, that has something to do with it. There are a lot of different factors. Just going out there and playing in a game and seeing what you might be capable of has something to do with getting focused because you realize you can do great things if you do them right.’’

That’s the bell the Bucs were hoping would go off in Talib’s head -- that he would realize he has a chance to be a truly special NFL player, if he would just focus on football.

That’s where a few other people came in. There was Talib’s father, Ted Henry. There was his older (by three years) brother, Q Talib, and there was Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris, who was Talib’s defensive backs coach in his rookie season.

"I have my real 'maturity' conversations with my brother and my dad," Talib said. "They’re the two older guys I’ve been around all my life. They’ve always been good influences on me, but I got to the NFL and I got a little sidetracked. They helped get me back on track."

The message from the father and the brother was pretty much the same.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireAqib Talib has admitted he's had some growing up to do, but says he's realized "you can do great things if you do them right."
“Seeing the big picture,’’ Talib said. “Beating it into my head what I’m capable of. I’ve been blessed with a lot and you don’t want to mess it up because it’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little. They just made me see the big picture. They’re always reminding me why I’m in Tampa and what I’m out here to do.’’

Then there is Morris. During a disastrous 3-13 first season as a coach last year, Morris drew frequent criticism for being too friendly with his players. But it’s a pretty well-known fact in the building that Morris wasn’t acting like a buddy after Talib got in trouble. The coach showed some tough love and pretty much echoed the advice from Talib’s father and brother.

“He let me know what’s important and what’s not important,’’ Talib said. “In his eyes, football is important. Everything else is not important. Football and winning games are what matters.’’

Talib has grabbed onto the concept that he has too much talent to let it go to waste. That’s why it’s ironic that he’s talking about how he should have six interceptions. He’s talking about missed opportunities. That theme could have ended up summarizing his career. But things have changed.

Instead of talking about off-field troubles, the only missed opportunities Talib is talking about these days are the interceptions he believes he should have had.

“I want to cash in on all of them,’’ Talib said. “I don’t want to leave any out there. Until I cash in on every opportunity, I’ve still got a lot to do.’’

But the Bucs are thrilled with what Talib is doing.

“Aqib has learned to handle his business,’’ Lake said.

That’s why the Bucs are putting so much trust in Talib, a guy they once weren’t sure they could trust at all.

“It’s just up to us as coaches to put him in position, show him the game plan and then let Two Five do his thing because he’s that talented,’’ Lake said. “Every week, if they have a lead dog wideout, it’s guaranteed that Two Five is going to be on him. There aren’t many receivers in this league that are going to beat him consistently. We feel like we have one of the best corners in the league and we’re going to utilize him.’’

Talib is trying to use that opportunity to make sure he gets into that conversation about being one of the league’s best cornerbacks.

“I want to be one of the Ronde Barbers,’’ Talib said of the veteran cornerback, who starts across from him. “I want to be one of the names that you know.’’

The Bucs are a surprising 3-1. Talib is putting up numbers. You put winning and statistics together and you get recognition and Pro Bowl berths. This really might be just a start for Talib. But as the conversation winds down, Talib starts talking about how he wants it all to end. He had four interceptions as a rookie and five last year.

He wants more this year and many more after that. He wants to make sure he capitalizes on every opportunity and he’s thinking eight or 10 years down the road.

“By then, hopefully I’ll have seen the Super Bowl, hopefully I’ll have seen a Lombardi Trophy and ordered hats or T-shirts a couple of times that say NFC South champions or NFC Champions or Super Bowl champions and maybe bring back some T-shirts from a few Pro Bowls,’’ Talib said.

In what has been a season of turnarounds in Tampa Bay, Talib’s might be the biggest of all.

“That was the type of career I had in mind all while I was growing up,’’ Talib said. “I kind of forgot about that or at least forgot the work that takes to get there for a while. But I get it now and I know what I want. I’d like to have one of those Ronde Barber-type careers. He’s seen NFC South championships, Super Bowls, Pro Bowls and has a couple of records. That’s what I want.’’

It’s certainly not too late. Maybe, when all is said and done, Talib will be mentioned as one of the best cornerbacks in the league and maybe he’ll get those team and personal accolades he talked about.

They’re out there for him and they’re opportunities he says he’s not going to miss.