CB Aqib Talib admits to being talkative on the field but intends to spend most of his early time in Tampa listening
His first name means "last to come," referencing his birth order among four siblings.
His last name? Aqib Talib isn't sure. Now, Jon Gruden, the head coach of Talib's new team, has an idea, though it's more optimism then etymology.
"I hope it means, 'Good corner,'" cracked Gruden, giving Talib a friendly elbow to the ribs.
Indeed, Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers are betting that Talib is synonymous with good play at one of football's most demanding positions. Their wager came in the form of a first-round pick on Saturday, the 20th selection overall in the opening round of the 2008 draft.
If that wager pays off big, the former Kansas University star could become the next standout cornerback in Tampa, following in the footsteps of Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham, Brian Kelly and the like.
Barber and Abraham were third-round picks (extremely astute third-round picks) in 1996 and 1997, respectively, and Kelly was a high second-rounder in 1998. Talib, on the other hand, is just the second cornerback the Buccaneers have ever drafted in the opening round, joining SMU's Rod Jones in 1986. He's also just the second cornerback Tampa Bay has drafted in the first three rounds since that wave of first-day picks from 1996-98.
In other words, expectations are high for the head of the Bucs' Class of '08.
To make those expectations more manageable for a young and wide-eyed player, Gruden has set the same very simple goal for Talib that he tasked Gaines Adams with a year ago.
"I talked to Coach Gruden about leading the league in effort, and until I lead the league in effort, no nothing," said Talib, who played some on offense in college and is built to be a force in the kick-coverage game. "Whether it is special teams, defense, or offense, wherever coach wants me that is where I will be."
Adams took up Gruden's challenge after he was taken fourth overall in the 2007 draft. When most NFL newcomers were hitting the "rookie wall" in November and December, the hardworking Adams was just starting to come on. He finished the season with six sacks, tops among all NFL rookies, including 4.5 in the last seven games.
Adams may have needed some time to become acclimated to the speed of the NFL game, but he was a productive starter by the second half of his first campaign. Like most rookies, Talib thinks that will be the most difficult part of adjusting to the professional ranks.
"It is going to be a lot quicker, and things are going to happen a lot faster," he said. "I think training camp and all that kind of stuff will get me ready for those situations. I think by the time comes around, I will be ready."
Talib is more outgoing than the reserved Adams, though both come off as very friendly. The Jayhawks corner has a reputation for being confident, and somewhat of a talker on the field. He's not a trash-talker, he says; he just thinks a running conversation makes the game of football more fun. He enjoyed Gruden's joke about his name, which was delivered Monday while the two were holding up the traditional #1 Bucs jersey given to a first-rounder at his introductory press conference.
Talib arrived at One Buccaneer Place on Monday morning and took a quick look around at the locker room and a few other parts of the team's headquarters. He didn't need a full tour, however, as the Buccaneers had been one of seven teams he visited in the weeks leading up to the draft. The visit allowed Talib to sit down and talk football with Gruden, as well as Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin and Defensive Backs Coach Raheem Morris.
As he left that meeting, Talib hoped it wouldn't be his last time in Tampa.
"After my visit I really was like, 'Man, I need to play for Coach Kiff. I want to come play for Coach Gruden.' Out of any visit I went on, this was the one I felt the best about. They didn't tell me, 'We're going to draft you,' or anything, but I just felt like this was the best situation for me when I left after my visit."
In addition to Gruden and Kiffin, Talib will likely find mentors in a DB meeting room that includes Ronde Barber, Phillip Buchanon, Eugene Wilson and Jermaine Phillips. He can get a fresh perspective on handling a big rookie opportunity from Tanard Jackson, who started at free safety in his debut campaign in 2007. Talkative or not, Talib intends to spend most of his time listening in the early going.
"When I'm learning, I'm learning," said Talib. "I'm not talking, I'm taking notes and I'm learning. Until I've got a good grasp on what we're doing, I'm going to be quiet in that meeting room.
"But I think I'll fit right in pretty early. I'm a people person. I've never had a problem fitting in with a crowd."
Maybe that's what Talib stands for: People person. Whatever its origins or meaning, that's a name the Buccaneers hope will become very well known in the coming years.