Patriots CB Talib looks forward to possible return

For a guy who loves to talk on the field, New England’s Aqib
Talib sure has been quiet lately.

The Patriots cornerback injured his hip in the Patriots’ win
against New Orleans on Oct. 13 and missed the next three games. He
hadn’t spoken after practice until Thursday, when he said he’s
eager to return to the field Monday night for New England’s game
against the Carolina Panthers.

”I’m practicing good,” Talib said, with a wide grin. ”Day to
day. Trying to get back.”

Fresh off the Patriots’ bye last week, Talib was a limited
participant in Thursday’s practice. That’s the same designation
he’s had for a while, and he said watching his teammates play
without him was ”the worst thing in the world.”

Coach Bill Belichick was more candid than usual when asked about
the player who leads the team with four interceptions and who’s
been solely responsible for shutting down some of the league’s
elite pass catchers.

”He’s continued to progress. We’ll keep doing, as they can
tolerate it, do more and evaluate how they do at a little bit
higher level,” Belichick said. ”Then if that goes well, then ramp
it up and see where we are as we go through the week.”

New England’s secondary withstood the absence of its top
playmaker, going 2-1 during the stretch. The Patriots (7-2) could
benefit from his return against the Panthers (6-3), who have won
five straight games and scored 30 or more points in five of their
past seven.

”Unbelievable player, happy to have him on the field with us,”
said defensive end Rob Ninkovich. ”I think the guys that stepped
in when he was gone, they did a great job, but having him back is
just going to help us as far as have more depth and keep guys
rolling.”

Should Talib return for New England’s only Monday night game
this season, he likely will be matched up with one of the most
successful receivers of the past decade in Steve Smith.

Talib, who spent his first four-plus seasons playing in the NFC
South with Tampa Bay, is familiar with the flashy veteran.

”He brings it every Sunday or Monday or whenever the game is,”
Talib said. ”I think if you’re competitive like that, you’re going
to be pretty successful.”

Smith has tallied more than 800 receptions and 11,000 yards in
his career, and has a team-high 42 catches for 450 yards and three
touchdowns this season.

Talib knows exactly what to expect from Smith – his best effort
and a lot of chatter.

”You’ve got a lot of guys who do a lot of talking to (the
media), and we get out there and they don’t say too much on the
field,” Talib said. ”But Steve is definitely one of those guys,
he’s going to do it on the field.”

Not unlike Talib.

”Yeah,” he said with a smile, ”I say a couple words.”

Shadowing the opposition’s top threat is becoming commonplace
for Talib.

Julio Jones was near the top of the league in every major
category when Talib held him to a season-low six catches. He caught
just three of his first 10 for 22 yards.

The following week, Talib’s talents helped limit Cincinnati’s
A.J. Green to five catches for 61 yards. Green now leads the league
in yards and ranks second in receptions.

And still to come was his premier performance, spearheading an
effort to shut down New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham, who tops
all receivers with 10 touchdowns but was held without a catch
against New England for the first time in a span of 46 games.

Belichick went so far as to compare Talib to former Patriots’
cornerback Ty Law.

”Maybe Ty would be similar in that he was a good corner and you
could put him on a lot of players and not maybe feel like you need
to give him a lot of help,” he said. ”I think Talib is a guy that
we have a lot of confidence in and probably would treat his
matchups a little bit differently than we’ve treated some other
ones in the past.”