Talib to play a crucial role Sunday

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Talib to play a crucial role Sunday

FOXBORO -- There's one thing we know to be true about Sunday's AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium: The Baltimore Ravens aren't going to be afraid to take shots down the field.

That aspect of the Ravens' offensive arsenal makes the Patriots' in-season acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib that much more important.

The timing of New England's defensive improvements and the acquisition of Talib is no coincidence. His presence has improved the Patriots' secondary.

"Very positive," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday of Talib's impact on the defense. "He's a good football player. A good teammate. he's very well respected, because of his professionalism. He studies hard, he prepares well. He's tough, he competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. He's a smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He's a good guy to be around. But he works hard and he competes well. And I think those are his most impressive qualities."

For a player's viewpoint into Talib's presence on the Patriots' defense, look no further than its longest-tenured starter, Vince Wilfork.

"He definitely made a big difference in what we do defensively," Wilfork said of Talib. "Anytime you can basically say, Hey you got this guy and we are going to cover everybody else, that's a good sign."

Linebacker Jerod Mayo knew Talib was "a football guy" well before Talib joined the Patriots. Both players were drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Mayo selected 10th overall. Talib selected 20th.

"I met Aqib through the whole draft process," said Mayo on Wednesday. "We were on several visits together. I might have met him at the combine, I don't remember. But he was a good guy, a football guy. He enjoys the game, and he's made this team better obviously. His physical abilities -- he's a tall guy, long arms, can do a lot of different things. But like I said earlier, he's a football guy. He's always in the film room, always trying to learn, give tips to guys. He's really improved this defense in the passing aspect."

That improvement will once again have to show on Sunday, because they're certainly going to be tested down the field.

Collins: Contract situation will take care of itself

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Collins: Contract situation will take care of itself

FOXBORO -- Not long after Bill Belichick confirmed that Jamie Collins' absence from Day 1 of training camp practice was excused, the fourth-year linebacker was spotted on the field loosening up with his teammates for Day 2. 

Given the impact Collins has on the Patriots defense when he's healthy and on the field, his return to work was not an insignificant one. His health didn't appear to be an issue as he worked in for reps with the first-team defense alongside fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the middle of the field. 

He explained that his contract is not an issue at the moment, either. In the final year of his rookie deal, the 2015 Pro Bowler is scheduled to make $917,864 in base salary this season -- far below what he would make on an annual basis if he were to hit free agency.

"I'm just handling business, man," Collins said when asked if there were any updates on his contract status. "That'll take care of itself."

The Patriots are in an unusual position in that they have a handful of young players of import to the defense that in the final years of their deals. Hightower is set to become a free agent after this season, as are defensive end Jabaal Sheard, safety Duron Harmon and corner Logan Ryan. Malcolm Butler, a Pro Bowl corner last season, will be a restricted free agent after the season. 

Signing them all could be difficult if not impossible, but there have been no holdouts to this point. After being publicly excused from Thursday's on-the-field work by Belichick, and after hearing from him on Friday, Collins' brief absence certainly would not fall under that category.

OFFSEASON

Who will make the Celtics roster?

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Who will make the Celtics roster?

BOSTON – Regardless of what the Celtics do in the offseason, there will always be position battles in training camp.

But when the players arrive in a few weeks, a handful will have more at stake than just a roster spot.

Boston currently has 18 players with full or partially guaranteed contracts, a number that has to be pared down to 15 or less by the time the regular season begins.

The math is pretty cut and dry. Barring a trade, at least three players have to be let go.

But who will they be?

That’s for Brad Stevens and the rest of the Celtics brass to figure out.

In the meantime, here’s a look at five Celtics who, barring a trade, are likely to be among the pool of players Boston will be picking from for what should be the last couple of roster spots.