Ronde Barber is backing Aqib Talib, telling a website the troubled Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback is "a great teammate ... a fun-loving, kind of gregarious guy" and that the team is "somewhat responsible for him."
"It is too easy to simplify somebody and say they are a thug, he had a bad upbringing and (all that)," said Barber, a five-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro cornerback. "Some of that upbringing is part of what he is, but that is not who he is. I know him to be a great teammate. I know him to be a fun-loving, kind of gregarious guy. He likes to be the center of attention and he likes to have fun."
Talib, a starter since the Bucs took him in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, is accused of firing a gun at and pistol-whipping his sister's boyfriend during a March 21 domestic dispute in Garland, Texas. A Dallas County grand jury handed down an indictment last week, and Talib's attorney, Frank Perez, told the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday that he'll ask for an expedited trial date.
It's not the first time that Talib, who's free on $25,000 bond, has been in trouble. He was involved in a fight with fellow Bucs rookie Cory Boyd at the 2008 NFL Rookie Symposium, hit teammate Torrie Cox in the face with his helmet while fighting with Donald Penn during a minicamp workout in May 2009, and was charged with simple battery and resisting arrest in connection with an assault on a taxi driver in Tampa in August 2009.
Talib was suspended for last year's opener for the latter incident, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could impose a lengthy suspension once the league's labor situation is solved.
"We're prepared (to play without Talib), but you don't ever want to play a season or even a game without that guy," Barber said. "He's that good. He changes things. He takes (receivers) away, and we've never had that in Tampa. He can literally take a guy away. ... Not only is he big, physical and fast, he's technically sound, which a lot of guys in this league just aren't. ...
"Optimistically, I am hoping that this all goes away and he's proven innocent. I can't speak for him because I wasn't there. None of us were there. I don't know what the hell happened. The courts will decide that, and Roger Goodell will decide if he has a suspension. ... (But) the beat has to keep playing. The band can't stop playing because the drummer gets hurt. Somebody has to step up and play."
Talib has intercepted 15 passes in his three NFL seasons and is coming off a fine campaign in which he had 50 tackles, 11 passes defensed and six picks, one returned for a touchdown. Barber calls Talib's football IQ "unbelievable" and says the cornerback "knows what he has to do on a football field. He just gets it. He understands it."
E.J. Biggers, who stepped in as Tampa Bay's starting left cornerback in five games last season when Talib was suspended and suffered a torn hip tendon in December, likely will receive the call if Talib is forced out of action. Also competing for playing time in the secondary are Myron Lewis and rookie Anthony Gaitor, a seventh-round draft pick out of Florida International.
The Bucs have acknowledged exasperation with Talib in the past.
"You know, Aqib is a very outgoing, outspoken young man," general manager Mark Dominik told The Tampa Tribune when Talib was arrested in August 2009. "He certainly needs to mature a lot more. That's what I'll say."
Said Barber: "You can tell him all you want, but people are who they are. People change because they want to change, but they don't change because people tell them to change. They don't change because they have positive influence around them at the office. Aqib doesn't go home with me. He doesn't go home with Raheem (Morris, the Bucs' coach). He's not going to dinner with (defensive backs coach) Jimmy Lake every night. He's not seeing that type of influence.
"You can't (keep saying), 'Aqib, you can't do that.' (He'll just say) 'I know. I (messed) up. My bad.' I don't know how many times he's said, 'My bad,' to me or Raheem. He understands. He understands the things he's doing wrong and that he should have had better judgment ... but that is how he is wired, man. However he grew up -â and I don't know how it was -â but he has that instinct to survive, and sometimes it can lead to him making bad decisions. You're always responsible for everything you get yourself into. If you are around good people, trouble usually doesn't find you."
Former Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said last month the organization has given Talib "way too much leeway" and that "any other individual would have been cut way before this." Morris has refuted a report that Talib might be released, and Barber said letting the cornerback go would be the wrong move.
"I think you discredit the family-type atmosphere we have when you say, 'Just get rid of the guy,' " Barber said. "We drafted the guy. We are somewhat responsible for him. Yeah, he's had some issues, but he's a teammate. He's a teammate. I know it's professional and it's a business, but I don't want to see anything bad happen to him now or 20, 30 years from now."