ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Focused, quick, aggressive and agile, cornerback Aqib Talib is everything the Broncos hoped he could be when they signed him to a six-year contract in March. And this week, he returns to the workplace that was one of the foundations that made his current success possible.
Talib played just 23 games with the New England Patriots in 2012 and 2013 -- including four in the postseason -- but in that time enhanced his reputation, built his credibility and joined the league's elite class of cornerbacks, overcoming some difficult, tumultuous days with Tampa Bay from 2008 until a midseason trade four years later.
"Just the repetitions, man, just the experiences. You get older, you grow," said Talib. "I had a great coach, Bill Belichick -- (a) great coach. Playing against Tom (Brady), you learn stuff."
Aqib Talib will head to Foxborough to face the Patriots for the first time since he signed with the Broncos. Check out photos of him and the Broncos from Monday's practice.
Talib's learning was about more than just playing cornerback, but being a man. In March, Talib spoke of his maturation in New England, and noted that much of it came from the influence of his fiancee.
"You grow up," he said on the day he signed his contract. "I'm 28 years old now. I'm a little bit older, a little bit of a different stage in life. I think that played a major part."
But as he was introduced to Denver on March 12, Talib also cited the Patriots as a factor -- albeit not the preeminent one -- in his growth. He praised Belichick for defending him in the wake of the Wes Welker block that knocked him out of the AFC Championship Game. Talib knew there was no intent to injure on the play, but later said he nevertheless thanked the longtime coach for sticking up for him.
Seven months later, hard feelings from Talib remain non-existent. He played for a title contender with an elite quarterback in New England; he does the same in Denver now.
In either case, he's a world away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team of his first four-plus NFL seasons whose perpetual quarterback crisis is so profound that it has never re-signed a starter at the position to a second contract -- except when a passer went elsewhere and returned.
As a Buccaneer, the questions revolved around his future and whether he would harness the talent and preternatural quickness he possessed. He delivered emphatic answers in New England, containing big targets like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and Denver's Demaryius Thomas.
Those performances made him one of the most coveted cornerbacks in this year's free-agent class -- and were why his time on the market barely reached six hours before the Broncos announced an agreement to terms with Talib.
The Patriots subsequently struck back in the high-stakes game of cornerback musical chairs by signing Darrelle Revis, released by the Bucs in a cap-clearing move. Like Talib, Revis has fared well in his new environment; according to ProFootballFocus.com, he's held opposing quarterbacks to a 67.3 rating on passes targeted at him.
So perhaps the vociferous Patriots fans at Gillette Stadium won't be as apt to berate Talib as they would other players who left their team. But if they are, Talib doesn't care.
"Who knows, man. No idea," he said. "That's probably the last thing I'm worried about."
But his friend and fellow cornerback Chris Harris Jr. expects Talib to be amped, no matter how the fans react.
"I think any time you play your former team, you're going to be hyped up," Harris said. "He's probably going to downplay it or whatever, but when you play your former team, you always want to get the win -- especially when they let him go."
Talib will play it cool -- on the surface, at least.
"We've got to put like an amp meter on me or something. I don't really judge my 'ampness' for the game. But yeah I get pretty excited for every game," he said.
"So if I'm a little more juiced for this game, I guess y'all will be the judge of that."
And considering that Talib's normal level is higher than most, he should be more than good enough to win his share of matchups Sunday, even if he treats it as just another game.