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Rules don't always apply when it comes to playmakers

As I read Chris Hovan's criticism of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' handling of cornerback Aqib Talib's repeated off-the-field troubles, I couldn't help but think back to a conversation I had many years ago with a then-Buffalo Bills assistant coach.

The subject was Bruce Smith, the Bills' future Hall of Fame defensive end, and his habit of sitting out training-camp practices for no particular reason other than the fact he didn't want to participate.

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"People are always asking, 'Why doesn't Bruce have to practice when everyone else does?' " the coach said. "And I always tell them, 'Because Bruce isn't like everyone else. He's special. When everyone else gets one hamburger at lunch, Bruce gets two. The rules just aren't the same for everybody.' "

Whether anyone liked it or not, the coach spoke the truth. Smith was special. He was the most talented player ever to wear a Bills uniform, and, generally speaking, some team policies that applied to everyone else didn't apply to him.

At the time, the Bills had a couple of other future Hall of Famers in Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, and another potential Hall of Famer in Andre Reed, and they saw fit to practice far more often than Smith. Perhaps they weren't quite Smith's equal in terms of league-wide dominance at their respective positions, but they were special players who mostly chose not to abuse the privileges of their status.

That's what appears to be going on with Talib, who has shown a fairly steady knack for finding trouble since his rookie year. And Hovan, a former NFL defensive tackle who played for the Buccaneers, was calling out his ex-employer for tolerating far too much of it.

Hovan certainly spent enough time in the league to know that different rules do exist for different players. Should the Bucs, as Hovan mentioned in a rant during a recent radio interview in Tampa, draw the line and send Talib packing? A case could be made for them to do so -- and some columnists and other media types in Tampa Bay already have -- but no one (including Hovan) is holding his breath waiting for that to happen.

Talib's talent, as Hovan pointed out, "goes through the ceiling." If the Bucs were to cut him, another team would pick him up in a blink. He might bring along his penchant for finding trouble off the field, but he also would bring along exceptional skills that can help a team win.

General manager Mark Dominik, coach Raheem Morris and the rest of the Bucs' decision-makers undoubtedly consider that any time the notion might arise -- if it ever arises -- to part ways with Talib.

It looks as if he'll just continue to be one of those guys who gets two hamburgers at lunch ... until the day comes when his play no longer warrants special treatment.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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