Aqib Talib excited the fanbase when he was picked in the 2008 NFL draft. Known for being a big, fast cornerback with incredible ball hawking ability, Kiffin got his first 1st round corner. He backed up Phillip Buchanon for a season, then advanced and took the reins as the starter in 2009.
Each of his previous two campaigns started quickly. Towards the latter half of the season Talib fades. This begs the question, is his conditioning at fault? Is this the result of poor coaching, lack of interest, or strength of schedule? Perhaps it is just the opportunities aren't coming to him, and that he's not yet fully accustomed to the NFL.
Talib played almost exclusively in the slot as a rookie, and it showed he'd only spend one season acting that part. Typically, he was on the field only in 3rd down situations in 2008 but capitalized as he reeled in 4 interceptions as a rookie. This tied a league high for rookies with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who started 11 games that year to Aqib's 2. He had three picks in his first seven games, and only one in his last nine that season.
The following year Talib absolutely robbed Jason Campbell, intercepting him three times in a single game. He accrued five that season. Once again, however, he slowed and intercepted no one after the halfway point.
After missing the first game of the season through suspension, Talib's been on a tear. He has five interceptions in six games and got his first touchdown with a pick six, courtesy of Max Hall. There are nine games left, and some may worry that it's about time for him to disappear. Those individuals will be pleasantly surprised this time.
Tampa bay gave fans hope for a deep playoff year in his rookie season- then the final four games ended up getting Gruden fired. Last season was nearly devoid of hope until the final contests, as Tampa went into Seattle 1-12. The commonality between the two has to deal with momentum. From pinnacle to pit the 2008 season bled into 2009. Player performances as a whole eroded. Though, in many games the Bucs were competitive last year, not being able to finish (as they have so aptly this season) would keep spirits low. Losing almost every week saps confidence out of players, especially the young and unestablished.
This season has illuminated the hopes of fans and players alike. The team walks onto the field each Sunday with a new-found sense of worth, believing that every game can be won. Moreover, fans are uplifted by the change. Watching games in bars this season I'm starting to hear cheers in sync with my own. People are actually watching the Bucs, and they're rooting for them.
My estimation is that Talib suffered from a combination of a lack of opportunity and being a shade disenchanted with the losing culture of the team. Such despondence would harm his confidence, and from there his play. Through his suspension he's been able to witness just how serious the league is with player misconduct, and how focused athletes need to be to succeed without reproach. This is a player that has yet to reach his potential, and despite the second half misfortunes he's accumulated 14 interceptions in less than two and a half seasons. Ronde's record is certainly in trouble- this year and beyond.
Time to remember the fifth of November.