Thursday, November 15, 2012 Updated: November 16, 3:19 AM ET
Aqib Talib fixing to enter fray
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerback Aqib Talib walked through the New England Patriots locker room Thursday afternoon and made his way toward the large crowd of reporters awaiting him. Then he smiled and cracked a joke, asking if they were expecting someone else.
It was an effective ice-breaker to a highly anticipated moment, Talib meeting the press for the first time as a member of his new team -- 15 days after the trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was struck.
Then when the nearly six-minute interview concluded, fellow defensive back Devin McCourty -- who occupies the locker next to Talib -- playfully gave the newcomer a hard time by asking if he was going to be creating media-based traffic jams on a daily basis like the one that was just breaking up. Talib laughed, assuring McCourty that wasn't the plan.
"The guys have been great, man," Aqib Talib said of his Patriots teammates. "They've embraced me. I love the team already."
Talib began with a smile and finished with one, looking very much like a player who was embracing his new surroundings. He'd been here just three days, but given some of the cliché-filled answers he provided, it sounded like he'd been around for a decade, making one wonder if there truly is a "Beli-chip" placed in players' helmets to remind them of the right thing to say.
One thing that stood out was his view that playing cornerback is not rocket science. Let's not overcomplicate it.
So for those wondering how quickly Talib might emerge, he made it sound like it wouldn't be a surprise if it's as quickly as this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I've played man before, I've played zone before. It's my fifth year in the league [and] I've played almost every coverage there is to play," he said. "For a corner, you can almost play for any team. It's football; you go out and play one of eight coverages. I've done it all before."
Exactly. The Patriots didn't trade for Talib, giving up a 2013 fourth-round draft choice, to have him eased into the mix. They need him now and there's no reason he shouldn't be dressed Sunday, playing close to a full load while possibly being matched up against receiver Reggie Wayne, who has been targeted more than any player in the NFL (105 times).
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Talib has a chiseled physique, loads of talent, and a checkered past. New England is a fresh start and he's already feeling the love from teammates.
"The guys have been great, man," he said. "They've embraced me. I love the team already."
Quarterback Tom Brady, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo were among those giving Talib a favorable review Thursday. This is the way the Patriots roll, especially when integrating a new player with a questionable past into their locker room culture. Brady talked about Talib's competitiveness. Wilfork mentioned how everyone in the locker room has passion for football. Mayo noted Talib's work ethic in preparing to face the Colts.
Meanwhile, although hard to believe, Talib said some of his questionable off-field decisions weren't brought up by coach Bill Belichick.
"We kind of just talked straight football, man," he relayed. "He didn't bring up the past; I didn't bring up the past. He didn't bring up the future; I didn't bring up the future."
This is about right now, and so when Talib was asked how he might describe himself off the field, his response spoke volumes. Just as he might re-route a receiver on the field, he did the same to the question.
"I'm a competitor, man, on the field," Talib replied. "That's kind of what we're talking about now -- just football, man."
When it comes to just football, Talib's arrival instantly upgrades the Patriots' secondary. He's wearing No. 31, last donned consistently by disappointing 2007 first-round draft choice Brandon Meriweather, and addresses an area that has been a major weakness if he can stay focused.
Some have suggested it might be better to ease him into the mix, but why wait?
As the smiling Talib said himself, let's not overthink this. The time is right to thrust him into the mix and see what he can do to help.