- Associated Press - Monday, November 26, 2018

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) - Aqib Talib had barely gotten started with the Los Angeles Rams when he went down with an ankle injury.

After two months as a supportive voice on the sideline while his new team soared without him, the veteran cornerback is rejoining the Rams as their playoff push really begins.

The Rams (10-1) designated Talib to return from injured reserve Monday when they returned to work after their bye week.

Talib hasn’t played since Los Angeles’ third game on Sept. 23. He is eligible to return when the Rams visit Detroit on Sunday, but coach Sean McVay said the team won’t decide until Talib goes through the week of practice.

“Hopefully I look good enough so the coaches say I can play on Sunday,” Talib said.

Talib is eager to resume his first year with the Rams, who acquired him from Denver last March to play alongside Marcus Peters in a revamped secondary. Instead, Talib got hurt in Los Angeles’ third game and needed surgery on his ankle.

“I’ve been getting real hard workouts lately, but there’s nothing like playing in an actual game,” Talib said. “The only way you’re going to get ready for a game is playing in games, so I’m as good as I can be as far as working out without playing, without competing.”

The 32-year-old Talib won a Super Bowl ring with the Broncos three years ago, and he has been selected for the Pro Bowl in each of the past five seasons. That streak should end this year, but Talib is healthy in time to play a significant role in determining whether he wins a second championship ring.

Although the Rams are still riding high from their epic 54-51 win over Kansas City last Monday night, Talib wants his teammates to focus on the future.

“I don’t think you can maintain,” Talib said. “You’ve got to crank it up a notch, man. You need a little bit extra. Walk through a little bit extra. Take an extra 30, 40 minutes at home. It’s like the season really starts right now. (If) you plan on doing something (in the playoffs), you should have about eight games left. So the last eight games, you’ve got to be working harder than your first 11 games. This is when the season really starts right now.”

Three of the Rams‘ final five games are on the road as they chase New Orleans (10-1) for the top seed in the NFC. Los Angeles is one win or one Seattle loss away from clinching back-to-back NFC West titles for the first time since 1978-79, but its bigger race with the Saints could go down to the final week of December.

Talib has stayed active in meeting rooms and on road trips during his injury, maintaining his leadership role even while he can’t play. After a tumultuous career marked by missteps including everything from fistfights and chain-snatching to self-inflicted gunshot wounds and non-prescription Adderall, Talib has been a steady voice of veteran inspiration for the Rams.

“Just his presence for our team will be a big benefit to us, having him out on the practice field,” McVay said. “He’s been around a lot, and he’s voted a captain by his guys. He’s clearly one of the leaders on this football team.”

Talib also dabbled in broadcasting during his injury absence.

“I told him not to get too good at that NFL Network job,” said McVay, who is 20 days older than Talib, “because he looks like he’s got a couple of years left in him.”

Troy Hill has started seven games at cornerback opposite Peters during Talib’s absence, and Sam Shields has played extensively.

Both cornerbacks are likely to stay in important roles alongside nickel back Nickell Robey-Coleman, but Talib’s shutdown skills are much-needed on a defense that gave up 346 yards passing to Drew Brees in LA’s only loss and 478 yards to Patrick Mahomes in last week’s big win.

“The way that we look at it is it’s given us a great opportunity for guys that wouldn’t have gotten a lot of those snaps to continue to get that experience,” McVay said. “I think it has enabled us to develop some depth at that corner spot. But it’s a big boost to our defense getting (Talib) back for a variety of ways.”

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