ATLANTA – Some of Bill Belichick’s best work will be on display Sunday night.
Maybe it'll be in his doubling up NFL defensive MVP Aaron Donald, hitting Rams running back Todd Gurley to lessen his “will,” or some “amoeba” formation on defense designed to confuse quarterback Jared Goff and coach Sean McVay.
It could be his finding an unknown defensive lineman out of Brown University, James Develin, and transforming him into a Pro Bowl fullback, now in his seventh season for the Patriots. Or choosing the second-best running back out of Wisconsin, James White, and developing him into a third-down conversion machine.
Among the best examples of his work will be lining up on the other side of the ball -- Los Angeles Rams cornerback Aqib Talib.
A former first-round pick (20th overall), Talib was floundering in his fourth season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only that, he'd been suspended for using performance enhancing drugs.
Belichick, needing a top cornerback, took a flyer and dealt a fourth-round pick to the Bucs for Talib.
Talib at the time was like Randy Moss pre-Patriots.
When he got to Foxborough, football as knew it became completely different.
“I learned right away that you can never be late … for anything,” said Talib. “It was a little scary, coming to a new team, especially the Patriots, and their history.”
Talib played six games and the playoffs in 2012 with the Patriots. But he did his best work the following season, after signing a one-year, $5 million deal.
He started a five-year run of being named to Pro Bowls, four of them with the Broncos.
In all, Talib spent just 15 months with the Patriots. It was like the pro football player's equivalent of going to Harvard Business School.
He has since become a household name and a very rich man, making $49 million since leaving Foxborough in 2014.
“I learned a lot about preparation and discipline,” he admitted. “I matured, sure, but I’ve always matured.”
Talib has always been a big talker on the field. He still is.
But now it’s less trash and more informative.
“I don’t talk trash like I used to,” he said. “Now I’m saying, ‘Third-and-five, this, this and this' -- more football conversations. I don’t get caught up in the trash talking any more. I just want to win.”
Talib has only been with the Rams since March 15, when the Denver Broncos dealt him for a fifth-round pick. He was a little too outspoken about the losing, and he had nearly $20 million left on his six-year deal.
The Rams were all-in this year after a disappointing playoff ouster the prior year against the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. They also acquired a bevy of players, from good to great, including Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Brandin Cooks, Sam Shields and Ramik Wilson.
Talib’s connection was with Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. They were together for two seasons, including for the Super Bowl championship after the 2015 season.
“He’s a great guy and a great coach,” said Talib. “He’s the reason I’m here. We just knew how the other [guy] rolled. He knows I play to win.”
Talib missed eight games this year in October and November due an ankle injury that needed surgery. He returned in December and has been outstanding in the Rams' two playoff wins over Philadelphia and New Orleans.
Talib was asked about his current coach and comparisons with the guy from New England.
“Different personalities altogether,” he said. “But where they are both the same is the respect they command. When they talk, you listen. You don’t send texts.
"And when they talk, you take notes," he said. "They are both great leaders.”
Doesn't Talib hold a special place in his heart for a guy who helped transform his career?
“Bill Belichick definitely does,” he said Talib, before rattling off 10 other former coaches and assistants.
Informed that his answer was very Belichickian -- rarely crediting one specific player or person -- Talib broke into a smile.
“I guess I did learn a lot from Belichick,” he said. “How to talk to the media.”
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Talib: Edelman is 'feisty'
Former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick noted Wednesday that he would be surprised to see Rams cornerback Aqib Talib assigned to Pats receiver Julian Edelman.
Talib said it could happen, but that all depends on the Patriots.
“You know what formations and groupings they’re going to have,” he said. “We have a plan, but a lot of it is based on what they’re doing.”
As for Talib’s thoughts on Edelman?
“He’s feisty, man, I like him,” said Talib. “He’s not afraid to make plays and take a hit. I respect that.”
When talking about Edelman’s career as a quarterback in college, Talib laughed.
“He’s definitely too feisty to play quarterback (in NFL),” said Talib.