After bypassing the parking lot and adventuring off-road, they stashed their golf cart on a grass field in the shadow of a large tent, convinced they had commandeered the fastest ride among the Los Angeles Rams‘ training camp fleet. Hiding it ensured that no teammates would find and steal it after a long day.
They hurried to the locker room, grinning like school boys getting away with mischief.
— Marcus Peters (@marcuspeters) August 2, 2018
The pair often wore the same expression through the Rams’ three-week training camp as they retreated to the sideline after wreaking havoc on the Rams’ receivers.
“They bring, really, a lot of confidence,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “A lot of swagger.”
The Rams acquired Talib, 32, and Peters, 25, during a series of offseason trades, and the pair has been nearly inseparable ever since. Throughout camp at UC Irvine, they shared a dorm room and a golf cart to shuttle around campus, talking about “football and family,” Peters said.
During practices, they often stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the sideline.
“It’s been real cool,” Talib said. “He’s learning the defense; I know the defense.”
Together, the cornerbacks replace Trumaine Johnson and Kayvon Webster from a unit that ranked 13th in pass defense and 19th overall last season, as the Rams won the NFC West and made their first playoff appearance in 13 years.
Peters and Talib became part of a blockbuster offseason that also included the acquisition of defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, as the Rams set out to find players better suited to fit defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, which is designed to have cornerbacks play man-to-man and make plays on the ball.
“They’re both elite players,” said Phillips, who has experience coaching Talib. “Aqib obviously was in the system before, so I think he gives [Peters] a few more pointers. But their relationship is really good, and that’s what you want.”
Talib, an 11th-year pro who is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and has 34 career interceptions, won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos playing in Phillips’ defense. Peters, a fourth-year pro, has a league-high 19 interceptions over the past three seasons, and he was voted to the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons.
After facing the duo through camp, quarterback Jared Goff said their playmaking skills would help improve both sides of the ball. They forced Goff to be a more precise signal-caller.
“You have to be really accurate,” Goff said. “If you don’t throw it exactly where you need to, they’ll make you pay. And if you’re late, they’ll make you pay.”
The Rams traded for Talib two weeks after acquiring Peters. The 18th overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015, Peters was thrilled to discover he’d play with a cornerback of Talib’s pedigree.
“I get to get some more targets this year ’cause now I got a person who is on the same playing level as me,” Peters said. “Not saying nothing against who I played [with] in the past; just saying that I got another defensive back who is highly rated … that quarterbacks got that much respect for him too. So you got to pick and choose your battles now.”
Talib, who is scheduled to earn $11 million this season and $8 million in 2019 before his contract expires, is a self-described “social butterfly” and has embraced a leadership role as an extra voice in Phillips’ defense on the field.
“I just be me, man,” Talib said.
While Talib and Peters boast impressive résumés, both also have hit bumps in the road that have resulted in dubious reputations.
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Talib with the 20th overall pick in 2008, he was involved in a series of incidents and in 2012 was suspended for four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Buccaneers traded him to the New England Patriots, where he played through the 2013 season. In 2016, with the Broncos, he made headlines when he accidentally shot himself in the leg. More recently, Talib was involved in a pair of what have become infamous chain-snatching incidents with receiver Michael Crabtree.
Now in the twilight of his career, Talib has shown maturity. There was no such incident with Crabtree when the two faced each other in a joint practice in Baltimore last week.
As a young player, Talib followed Ronde Barber to watch film and prepare for games. He said it also would have been helpful to have someone guide him off the field. He is convinced he can lend a voice to Peters, whose love for the game, he said, has often been overshadowed by the adversity he has faced.
“He reminds me of myself,” Talib said. “I love football and that’s what people don’t talk about enough.”
In 2014, Peters was kicked off the University of Washington football team, and last season, the Chiefs suspended him one game when he threw a penalty flag into the stands before exiting the field for the locker room. He also got into a verbal altercation with a coach.
“I think I can help him,” Talib said of Peters. “Just telling him how I’ve handled situations that I’ve been through in the past and what I think he should do.”
Peters is scheduled to earn $1.7 million in the fourth season of his five-year rookie deal and will likely seek an extension before the start of next season. He expressed confidence in his ability to move on from the past.
“My growing pain is easy,” Peters said. “I mean, all growing pains is easy because you grow from it.”
Together, Talib and Peters are considered among the best tandems in the league. But Talib is hesitant to jump on board with that label just yet.
“It’s just on paper right now,” Talib said. “We’ll see.”
If there’s one certainty, it’s that their ride with the Rams this season will not lack for entertainment. And if it goes the Rams’ way, it will involve a lot of grins between Talib and Peters as they jog off the field.