FOXBOROUGH -- Though he didn't expressly say that he'll be back in uniform Monday night against the Panthers, the fact that Aqib Talib met with reporters in the locker room Thursday for the first time since suffering a hip injury against the Saints in Week 6 was a positive sign.
Asked if he feels like he's ready to play in Carolina, Talib said, "Practice been good, man. Day to day, trying to get back."
The sixth-year cornerback was playing at an exceptionally high level at the time of his injury. The website ProFootballFocus had him as its top-graded corner through the first six weeks of the season, and despite missing a month, he's still tied for second in the NFL with four interceptions. When he got hurt, he was in the process of shutting out Saints All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham.
Talib said the timing of the Patriots' bye week was vital, not just for himself but everyone on the team. And he sounded eager to get back onto the field.
"Anytime you have to watch your guys go to war without you, man, that’s the worst thing in the world," said Talib, adding that he liked the way his teammates played while he was rehabbing.
"Definitely, man. I was their No. 1 fan. Just texting and trying to help as much as I can but, man, those guys came and played their butts off for as long as I was out. I don’t even know how long."
Getting his fundamentals and technique back is a focus in practice.
Playing with the Buccaneers for four-plus seasons, Talib faced the Panthers and receiver Steve Smith twice a year. As Bill Belichick did earlier in the day, Talib praised Smith's approach to the game.
"Just that competitive nature," said Talib. "He brings it. Every Sunday or Monday or whenever the game is, Steve going to bring it, man. I think when you’re competitive like that, you’re going to be pretty successful."