Bucs fill spot in secondary with Biggers
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- E.J. Biggers embraces the challenge of filling a hole in Tampa Bay's 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 he definitely anticipates opposing quarterbacks trying to exploit him now as the replacement for the Buccaneers' 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's been used primarily as a fifth defensive back in obvious passing situations, will make his third pro start Sunday against Washington. 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 Tampa Bay's season opener against Cleveland while Talib was serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. The 23-year-old other start came in Week 5 at Cincinnati, when the Bucs began the game in nickel coverage.
Talib injured his hip during the first half of last week's 28-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. 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 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 remained 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 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's benefited from being able to watch Talib and Barber every day in practice, as well as get 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 week'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 every day. 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."
Received 12/10/10 03:48 am ET