Rookie CB Aqib Talib believes the Bucs have crafted the perfect role on defense for him in his rookie season
Life isn't easy for an NFL rookie. Between getting acclimated to a new town, making the acquaintance of new teammates, and above all else, adapting to a new playbook and a new level of competition, it can be an intimidating situation.
But watching Aqib Talib, the rookie cornerback the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted out of Kansas in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, you can't tell that the rookie life is bothering him.
Usually spotted with a wide smile on his face or joking around with his fellow defensive backs, Talib looks exceedingly comfortable in his surroundings.
He certainly looks at home out on the playing field, too. Through six games, Talib has already tallied two interceptions. Not too shabby, considering his action comes primarily in the nickel package, which accounts for less than half of the Bucs' defensive plays in a typical game.
Even with the usual rookie learning curve to overcome, Talib says a big reason for his early success is the fact that he's simply having a blast being a Buccaneer.
"I haven't had more fun playing football since I've been playing football," Talib said. "Nothing against Kansas – I had a lot of fun playing at Kansas – but I haven't had more fun playing football in my life. I think that's what it all boils down to – coming out here and enjoying doing what you're doing. I'm definitely enjoying my teammates, my coaches and the whole staff. I'm definitely glad I ended up here."
For Talib – an aggressive, ball-hawking defender while in college – being drafted into the Tampa Bay organization was a perfect fit.
"This defense flies around," Talib said. "They talk about how old we are and how many veterans we have on our team, but I bet we run just as good as any defense in the league. We talked about running to the ball in Kansas, and we had a lot of turnovers and were highly ranked in the nation in turnovers, but seeing this defense live is like night and day from college. We really fly to the ball. It's crazy, and I love being a part of it."
Even with the limited action he sees as the team's nickelback, Talib says he's happy with the workload given to him so far by Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"I'm definitely fulfilling the role that Kiff has got for me, to come in on nickel and hold down the right side when Ronde goes inside," Talib said. "I don't feel like I'm doing a bad job at it. I definitely can get better and improve, and that's my goal – to get better and improve. I think my role is working well.
"I love my role on the defense. I like to just sit back and watch them fly around and then get a chance to go do it with them. I love my role. I've still got a lot of stuff to do and a lot of stuff to learn. I've got to get in shape more to be able to play a whole game. I feel like they're using me just how I should be used right now."
Luckily for the Bucs' No. 1 pick, if he does come upon any sort of rookie roadblocks, he has a sympathetic ear in his position group in safety Tanard Jackson. Just a year ago, Jackson was in Talib's shoes – a young draft pick learning the ropes – and the Bucs' second-year safety has proven to be a valuable resource on and off the field.
"The biggest help I would say has been Tanard Jackson," Talib said. "Last year he made the transition and came in and went through everything I'm going through. He knows it firsthand and it's fresh in his mind on what advice to give, on and off the field, with the defense, the double calls, which calls to play. Off the field, he helps with little stuff. If you need to go somewhere to get something, he tells me where to go, little stuff like that."
With a prime-time matchup looming against the Seattle Seahawks, the confident rookie said his goals are to continue improving, continue to make plays and hopefully help the Bucs capture the Lombardi Trophy.
"I'm just trying to be better as a player and keep sprinting to the ball," Talib said. "I think both of my interceptions came off tipped balls, so I think it's just trying to fly to the ball and good stuff happens.
"I just want to keep winning games and keep getting turnovers and keep scoring touchdowns as a defense, and the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl."