When Los Angeles signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth and outside linebacker Connor Barwin a year ago, the organization knew it had brought in a pair of solid players who can help a team win.
But the Rams also anticipated both men being able to help lead and mentor the team's group of young players, in effect teaching them the best practices of how to be a pro.
That's exactly what happened in 2017, and Los Angeles won the NFC West in the process. Young offensive linemen like right guard Jamon Brown and right tackle Rob Havenstein often spoke of how much they gleaned from being around Whitworth, as well as veteran center John Sullivan. And rookie outside linebacker Samson Ebukam heaped praise on Barwin for how the veteran helped him prepare throughout the season.
Now in 2018, the Rams are hoping newly acquired cornerback Aqib Talib may have a similar affect on the younger players in his position group — especially Marcus Peters.
"I think I've mentioned before, last year we brought in some key guys like Big Whit, Connor Barwin, John — some older guys to help mentor our younger guys," general manager Les Snead said. "I don't want to say older as a negative because those guys actually helped us on Sunday immensely — but as they're in the final chapter of their careers, [and] it's the wisdom they pass on to the next generation. It's invaluable, and I think that's what Aqib has the chance to do with Marcus — and the rest of our secondary, for that matter."
As a 32-year-old Super Bowl champion, Talib embraces that leadership role and wants younger players like Peters to look up to him.
"I feel like you ask the coaches — Wade Phillips, Gary Kubiak, Bill Belichick — ask those guys about me, they're going to tell you how professional I am in that building," Talib said. "So, I'm going to be myself and Marcus will follow me. He will see how professional I am in that building as far as on this tape, as far as how I put my work in. I think it will rub off on him and it will help him."
There was a report in Sports Illustrated’s MMQB that Talib once told a reporter he could tell Peters wasn't watching film properly, but could become the best cornerback in football with better guidance.
Asked about the report, Talib said, "I wouldn't say he wasn't watching the film right because he's doing something right. He has a bunch of interceptions in his first couple years in the league. So, I wouldn't say he wasn't watching film right, but if he really did get in that lab with the film he could even go to the next level.
"That's something Wade really helps with, helps dissect the game for him," Talib continued. "I'm just here as a vet. If he has questions for me for anything, I'm going to be here for him. We are vocal guys, both of us are vocal guys. I'm going to ask him questions on what he sees, he's going to ask me what I see. So, it's two great football minds. We get to put our minds together and it's just a fresh start for both of us."
But Peters isn't the only young cornerback in that room, which means Talib will have plenty of teammates to lead. Like the vast majority of elite players, Talib said his style focuses on being authentic.
"Really I just be myself," Talib said. "I think I'm a natural leader. I'm always going to speak my mind. I do the right thing, so if you're vocal and you're doing the right thing as far as practicing hard, as far as watching tape, things like that, guys are going to follow. So, I just be myself and guys follow."