Character is important to the Bucs, or so they keep saying. They did kick Jerramy Stevens off the team after he got busted, and they surely fined everyone who got into trouble internally. But they've also embraced and protected some of their players, including Mike Williams who was arrested for DUI but later cleared, and Geno Hayes who pled 'no contest' to misdemeanor trespassing. Aqib Talib's recent charges are much more serious, though, and it will prompt the Bucs to react once the labor situation is resolved. Whatever the Bucs decide to do with Talib, I doubt they're willing to offer him a contract extension once his contract ends after the 2012 season. But they'll have another chance to show their stance on character concerns in the 2011 draft, and two players that the Bucs should be interested in stick out in that regard: Jimmy Smith and Jabaal Sheard.
Jimmy Smith is a tremendously talented and skilled cornerback who has run into trouble throughout his college career. Rumors of four failed drug tests haunt him, and he was arrested twice for being in possession. Smith himself will point to the fact that those incidents happened during his first two years and that he's changed, but Talib supposedly changed last season too. The Bucs are sure to be wary of these off-field problems, and the question is whether or not they're willing to dig deep into this kid's background. If they want to target him, which with the 20th overall pick they may not, they need to figure out whether he loves football and whether he's going to continue to get into trouble at the NFL level. If they can't figure out the answers to those questions they're better off passing on him.
Jabaal Sheard, on the other hand, is a little different. No failed drug tests, but one arrest and conviction for disorderly conduct. He got involved in a fight that teammates started, and threw a man through a glass door. Very little is known about the circumstances, though the fact that they managed to get the charges down from aggravated assault to misdemeanor disorderly conduct speaks in his favor. And besides that incident, Sheard has been an exemplary person on and off the field. He was a team captain at Pitt, played through injury and is relentless on the field. Off the field he received a bravery award for helping an elderly woman escape her burning home, and is supposedly a good student. While the Bucs may not even bother with Jimmy Smith, Sheard looks like the kind of player the Bucs will be willing to dig deep on. Someone who made a mistake but is otherwise a great person and player, that's the kind of player the Bucs are going to be looking at when others won't bother.
Go back to last year and see what the Bucs did with Mike Williams and Legarrette Blount. They dug deep into Mike Williams' background, going as far back as elementary school to figure out the kind of person he really is. They came to the conclusion that Mike Williams didn't like college, made a few poor decisions, but loved football and never got into legal trouble, nor did he do drugs. A kid they were willing to take a risk on. With Legarrette Blount it was even clearer - he had one lapse of judgement, but a very public lapse. That was the only concern, though, and once the Bucs dug in they figured he was a good kid at heart who loved football. Then again, they didn't bring him in until after the Titans waived him. But that love of foobtall is the key. The player has to love football, and has to be a good enough person off the field to be able to stay on the field. With Williams and Blount the Bucs found two players who seem to do just that. Can they do it again in 2011?