Curran: Talib ready for pivotal role at corner

Curran: Talib ready for pivotal role at corner
July 29, 2013, 12:15 pm
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FOXBORO -- You won’t see many fans proudly wearing “TALIB” jerseys at Patriots training camp.
 
Having joined the team last November after a trade with Tampa, Talib was still under a PED suspension when he came aboard, and his checkered time with the Bucs didn’t make him an embraceable addition.
 
Entering the 2013 season, though, Talib is probably one of the five most important players on the Patriots. The New England defense will need to be a lot better than in years past as its offense finds its new identity. And, not coincidentally, the defense played a lot better after Talib came aboard in late 2012.
 
A free agent in the offseason, Talib rejoined the Patriots on a one-year, $5 million deal after finding no solid offers on the open market.
 
Instead of kicking rocks over the fact he didn’t cash in, Talib worked hard enough in the offseason to be one of 10 Patriots recognized for diligence and performance in the team’s offseason program.
 
Sunday, when asked if he feels 2013 is a big year as he again approaches free agency, Talib said, “It’s an honor to be in the NFL so every year I come in is a huge opportunity for me. I never know where I’m gonna be tomorrow. Every day I take advantage of it, be ready to work and get better.”
 
In the opening days of camp, the Patriots defensive backs seem well ahead of the revamped receiving corps they are covering. Talib, still just 27, has been as good as anyone. His length at 6-foot-2 allows him to match up with the bigger targets. His quickness, balance and catch-up speed means smaller, waterbug types don’t necessarily turn him inside-out. He is the most talented corner the Patriots have employed since Ty Law and Asante Samuel.
 
Asked about building off the solid secondary finish to 2012, Talib said, “We working. Always can get better. We doing better in the classroom, learning stuff. Stuff happening faster, we getting calls out faster. I feel like we’re getting better as a group.
 
“We start from scratch every year,” he continued. “At this time of year coming into training camp, you kinda feel the same. Getting in shape and trying to master these plays.”
 
There is, he says, some carryover from last year that’s making it easier.
 
“We played together for a little bit longer period now,” he acknowledges. “We know how each other play a little bit more, how each other make calls, what calls we gonna make so it’s a little bit better.”
 
But not to the point where anything can be unspoken and assumed.  
 
“You can’t do that in football,” he warned. “Ain’t no thing as just looking at nobody. It’s communication.”
 
That, perhaps, was one of the most important changes that led to late-season success in 2012. The communication at the back of the defense when Devin McCourty went to safety and could lead from the back seemed to make a difference. So too did the fact that Talib was talented enough to be deployed on the opponent’s No. 1 receiver all over the field. With Talib bird-dogging an Andre Johnson or Reggie Wayne, the secondary knew that potent player wasn’t going to be passed off as he crossed from hash-to-hash, thereby simplifying the operation.
 
The hills lining the practice fields at Gillette Stadium will still be dotted by fans wearing Brady, Mayo, Wilfork and McCourty jerseys. But a savvy Patriots fan looking to throw visible support behind a player who’s 2013 role is pivotal should look into No. 31.