FOXBOROUGH — Wearing jersey No. 31, which was last worn by the not-so-immortal Sergio Brown, talented but troubled cornerback Aqib Talib made his much-anticipated debut at Patriots practice Wednesday at Gillette Stadium.
Talib, acquired Nov. 1 from Tampa Bay for a 2013 fourth-round draft pick, became eligible to join the team after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy.
Talib worked out with the secondary, acclimating himself with the team’s defensive scheme, and after practice he deferred comments to the media until Thursday.
“Just trying to catch him up,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “He’s been in here every day, three days in a row — early — trying to get caught up.’’
Asked what made him confident that Talib would not be tripped by his checkered past while playing for the Patriots, Belichick replied, “Any player that we bring in here, we feel confident in bringing in here. Any conversations I have with the player are between myself and the player.’’
Talib, whose locker is between those of Ras-I Dowling and Devin McCourty, was brought aboard to help shore up a leaky secondary that allowed 337 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 37-31 win over the Bills last Sunday.
“Talib, he’s a good player, a funny guy,’’ said cornerback Kyle Arrington. “We like to have fun, but we all take our job seriously. We’re just working on our chemistry in the locker room and on the field, and so we’re coming along.’’
With rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick, leading the Colts to town for Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots will have to shore up the secondary — otherwise, they run the risk of getting torched the way the Dolphins did in Week 9 when Luck set a league rookie record with 433 passing yards.
Asked how Talib was received on his first day of practice, defensive end Rob Ninkovich said, “He’s great so far, coming in. We welcome him to come in and help our defense.
“Obviously he’s learning, but he’s hit the ground running. We’re just here to help him out and help his transition. The great thing about him is he’s a great athlete.
“It’s not the easiest thing to jump into something new, but he’s a great player, so I think it’s great that he’s around.’’
A Hines variety
Perhaps owing to the time Colts interim coach Bruce Arians spent as the Steelers offensive coordinator, Belichick said he saw the role of Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne as being comparable to that of former Pittsburgh wideout Hines Ward.
“They’ve moved him around a little in the past, but not much,’’ Belichick said of Wayne, who lead the NFL in receiving yards since 2001 with 12,639.
“He’s like Hines Ward. They motion him a lot, he’s blocking, cracking, lining up close to the formation. He’s in the slot. He’s been doing a lot of things that Hines Ward did in Pittsburgh. It’s interesting to see him in that role, but he’s always been good at whatever he’s done.’’
Wayne, who made 8 receptions for 96 yards in Indy’s 27-10 victory at Jacksonville last Thursday night, ranks first in the NFL this season with 69 receptions and second with 931 receiving yards.
“There were some issues last year with their quarterbacking and passing game and all that,’’ Belichick said, “but I don’t see any dropoff in Reggie Wayne as a football player. I don’t know, maybe I missed it. He’s always looked pretty good to me.’’
Run of Luck
While Luck has impressed with his arm strength, he has not been a one-dimensional threat, showing the ability to break down defenses with his speed.
“He’s a terrific athlete,’’ Belichick said. “This guy can really run, he’s fast. There’s no question about his athletic ability and running skill.’’
The 6-foot-4-inch, 234-pound rookie from Stanford ranks as the Colt’s third-leading rusher with 34 carries for 159 yards and a team-leading 5 rushing touchdowns.
“He’s probably as fast as anybody we’ve played [at quarterback],’’ Belichick said. “We’ve played a couple of guys that can run, but I’d put him right up there with them. He can cover a lot of ground. He’s very athletic.’’
Calling on Butler
The Patriots will have to be aware of another athlete, because of his familiarity with their organization: Colts cornerback Darius Butler, who played for New England from 2009-10.
“He’s incredibly athletic,’’ said Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker during a conference call with the Indianapolis media. “I don’t know if y’all have seen him jump, but he’s a very, very athletic player.’’
Butler, who signed with the Colts as a free agent Sept. 25, was pressed into service last week against Jacksonville after Jerraud Powers, who started the first eight games at right cornerback, was injured the previous week against Miami.
Butler responded by earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors with three takeaways: a pair of interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery.
“He’s a playmaker and had a great game,’’ said Arians. “It builds great confidence for him going up against the challenge that he has this week in coming up there.”
Arians declared cornerback Vontae Davis (knee) and tight end Coby Fleener (shoulder) out against the Patriots, who were missing guards Logan Mankins (ankle/calf) and Dan Connolly (back) in addition to Welker at Wednesday’s practice . . . Patriots linebacker Tracy White, who has been inactive the last four games with an injured foot, and defensive end Trevor Scott, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, returned to practice in a limited capacity, along with 11 other players . . . Guard Mitch Petrus, a fifth-round pick of the New York Giants in 2010 out of Arkansas, said there were no awkward feelings about signing with the Patriots, the team he beat to win a Super Bowl ring last year. “It’s a great deal,’’ said Petrus, who left his Super Bowl bling at home for the trip to Foxborough. “I’m really fortunate to be going from one great team to another, that’s for sure. So I’m definitely glad to be in the situation I’m in.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.