Midway through Sean Taylor’s first NFL practice yesterday, the Washington Redskins rookie safety lined up on H-back Brian Kozlowski in one-on-one drills. Kozlowski, who won’t be confused with Shannon Sharpe anytime soon, took five or six steps forward, faked Taylor out of his baggy shorts with a slight lean to the right, then exploded upfield to the left. Tim Hasselbeck’s pass floated in for an easy completion.
Welcome to the NFL, kid. Six days after having about 300 people on hand in Miami celebrate his lofty selection in the NFL Draft, Taylor got an abrupt lesson from a 10-year veteran with 78 career catches before a couple dozen spectators.
“You know, it’s one-on-one,” Taylor said with a sheepish grin after practice. “They’ve got the whole field to work with. We’re working on plays and how you would drop on plays, and we have help to the inside. I’m not worried about that. There will be another safety cleaning him up.”
Also cleaning up will be Taylor, in terms of his technique. The former University of Miami star and last weekend’s No.5 overall pick performed tepidly in his debut on what was a generally choppy afternoon for a team integrating 14 rookies and a handful of newly healthy veterans into the lineup.
Ifeanyi Ohalete, who started 24 games at safety over the past two seasons, remained first string with Matt Bowen. Taylor played third string, making no plays of consequence. But with no one expecting much on the opening day of Washington’s second minicamp, coach Joe Gibbs called his prized rookie’s play “fine, for the first go-around.”
“It’s kind of hard to tell because you don’t have pads on. You’re not hitting,” Gibbs said. “I think you really need to get pads on to find out what we’ve got, and it’s going to be a while before we can do that.”
One thing anyone could see, pads or no pads, was Taylor’s striking presence in the deep secondary. A mind trained to see a certain size defensive back might think the Redskins’ No.36 was on Miracle-Gro. It’s almost as if Washington has another linebacker on the field, only this one plays center field and dares wide receivers to run deep crossing routes.
“Sometimes I look back there and see the ‘6’ and I don’t look at the ‘3,’ and I think it’s LaVar behind me,” cornerback Fred Smoot said, referring to linebacker LaVar Arrington’s No.56 jersey. “He’s a big guy who can move.”
Taylor was moving in from that deep position on one play he nearly made. In 9-on-9 drills, wide receiver Laveranues Coles flashed open over the middle. Hasselbeck’s throw and Taylor arrived at roughly the same time, but in a tangle of arms stripping and pushing, the veteran wideout came down with the throw. Taylor went back to work.
“I’m going to come in here and do what I know how to do, and that’s play football,” Taylor said. “I’ll work hard and let the rest of it take care of itself. I’m going to work and let people see me work, and that’s it.”
Bowen wasn’t surprised the rookie looked somewhat rough. Asked about Kozlowski’s catch, Bowen grinned and said, “That’s going to happen. You’re not going up against a freshman coming out of high school anymore. These are grown men. Sometimes that happens. It happens to me a lot, too. It’s a tough game. He’s going to have to adjust to some things, but he’s going to be a great player.”
Ohalete remained fairly upbeat while working alongside the player drafted explicitly to take his job. The fourth-year veteran, a former undrafted rookie, gave Taylor high-fives when he subbed in. Afterward, Ohalete was diplomatic if a bit terse.
“I enjoy the competition,” Ohalete said. “Right now I look at it as a competition and may the best man win. I’ve got nothing bad to say about him. He’s a good player. His record proves itself coming out of college.”
That record has the Redskins excited about the player Taylor will be in coming months and years. Certainly an opening day in shorts, on third-string and eating Brian Kozlowski’s dust will be forgotten soon enough.
“Everybody’s got to start somewhere,” Taylor said. “I’m not trying get anything handed to me. I’m going to work for everything I get.”View Entire Story
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