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Buccaneers turn to CB Biggers to replace injured Talib

TAMPA, Fla. -- E.J. Biggers embraces the challenge of filling a hole in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' injury-depleted secondary.

The second-year cornerback already felt like a marked man before Aqib Talib was lost for the season with a hip injury, so Biggers definitely anticipates opposing quarterbacks trying to exploit him now as the replacement for the Bucs' best defender.

Talib is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions. Tampa Bay's other starting cornerback in Ronde Barber, a 14-year veteran who's the only player in league history with at least 40 interceptions and 25 sacks.

Biggers, who has been used primarily as a fifth defensive back in obvious passing situations, will make his third pro start Sunday against the Washington Redskins. He expects Donovan McNabb to keep tabs of where he is on the field, particularly since Barber has had some of the most memorable performances of his career against the Redskins' quarterback.

"If I was a quarterback, I wouldn't go at him," said Biggers, who also started in the Bucs' season opener against the Cleveland Browns while Talib served a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy. The 23-year-old's other start came in Week 5 at Cincinnati, when the Bucs began the game against the pass-happy Bengals in nickel coverage.

Talib injured his hip during the first half of last Sunday's 28-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and Biggers played most of the final three quarters, finishing with seven tackles. He was beaten for a touchdown in his pro debut against the Browns, but he also had his first career interception.

"I'm just happy I have the opportunity," said Biggers, who missed his entire rookie season because of a shoulder injury. "But losing a guy like Aqib, one of the best corners in the league, who's been doing a lot of great things ... and is a great guy on and off the field to me, it's going to be hard."

The Bucs, off to a surprising 7-5 start after winning three games a year ago, has been able to remain in playoff contention despite a slew of injuries, particularly on the offensive line, where left tackle Donald Penn is the only starter remaining from the opening week of the season.

The secondary has been hit hard, too.

Safety Tanard Jackson was suspended in September for a minimum of a year for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. His replacement, safety Cody Grimm, broke his left leg two weeks ago and is out for the season.

Talib could be tougher to replace. He generally drew the assignment of covering the opposing team's top receiver.

"Aqib's an elite corner who was playing at a Pro Bowl level," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said, adding that he's confident Biggers is a capable fill-in, noting that several other inexperienced backups on the league's youngest roster have performed well when given an opportunity.

"These guys are hungry. They're eager," Morris said. "They want to be in that spot."

A seventh-round draft pick out of Western Michigan in 2009, Biggers said he has benefited from being able to watch Talib and Barber every day in practice, as well as receive feedback from them on the sideline during games.

"I watch him and Ronde every day. I'm out there trying to be the next best thing coming up. Those guys teach me all the techniques I need to know," Biggers said. "I've just got to go in there and step up. That's the nature of the beast. Somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up."

After Talib left last Sunday's game, he returned from the locker room and became an impromptu coach. Biggers welcomed the guidance and expects to continue receiving assistance from the third-year pro who was a first-round draft pick in 2008.

"Aqib's telling me: 'I'm going to be here everyday. I'm going to be with you, I'm going to talk to you every game,'" Biggers said. "He's helping every way he can. That's the kind of guy he is. I've never seen a guy who hates to lose more than him."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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