- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

MIAMI — Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor returned to his old stomping grounds last night — and kept stomping.

In a memorable homecoming, Taylor started his first NFL game, albeit preseason, and kept making big plays, including a forced fumble and recovery on the opening drive of Washington’s 17-0 win over the Miami Dolphins. The performance was in front of “about 50 or 60” of Taylor’s family and friends who showed up at Pro Player Stadium, not far from where he grew up and later starred at the University of Miami.

“It felt good,” Taylor said. “You get to come down here and play in front of a home crowd, it’s pretty good.”

Taylor was elevated to the starting lineup in a late switch by assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams, who wanted to make sure the rookie was ready to handle calling plays. Taylor supplanted third-year pro Andre Lott and pleased the Redskins’ defensive boss.

“We wanted to make sure that he understood the defense, that he did what a free safety is supposed to do in this league, which is quarterback the defense,” Williams said. “He still needs to take some more steps in verbalizing our automatics and that kind of stuff. … But it’s nice to see he thinks he’s going to make a play every time he’s out there.”

Indeed, Taylor seemed to be involved in every play on the Dolphins’ first drive. He helped tackle running back Travis Minor on the first play and recorded the first of three solo tackles two plays later. Less than five minutes elapsed before he forced the fumble.

On that one, Taylor stepped up to help take down wide receiver Chris Chambers, who caught a quick pass against cornerback Shawn Springs. Using the combination of quickness and force that made Taylor the draft’s fifth overall pick, he drove his shoulder into Chambers and popped the ball loose. The ball then bounced once off the turf and into Taylor’s hands.

“He laid a great hit,” Williams said. “He never loses focus on the ball. You watch him — he’ll slow his heartbeat down and focus on the ball.”

Taylor did make a mistake on the opening drive. He was flagged for illegal use of the hands and erased a third-and-5 sack by linebacker Antonio Pierce. Although Taylor’s contact with wide receiver Antonio Freeman wasn’t significant, it was beyond 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. Such bumps violate a rule that is being enforced with particular emphasis this season as the NFL attempts to open up the passing game.

“What was impressive to me was that he didn’t let it bother him,” Williams said. “Some rookies will go in the tank because they knew they made a mistake and let the team down. All he did was go out and cause a fumble and recover a fumble [four plays later].”

The performance kept a terrific preseason going for Taylor. He had a pair of interceptions in the Aug.9 Hall of Fame Game, returning one for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble in the Aug.14 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Just three games into his pro career, he clearly is comfortable.

“Each step of this is just working, making progress,” Taylor said. “That’s what I’m doing right now, working on stepping in the right direction.”

Ogunleye to Bears

The Redskins missed out on a major acquisition last night when Dolphins defensive end Adewale Ogunleye was traded to the Chicago Bears.

A reported contract agreement for six years and $33.4million sealed the transaction, which sends Ogunleye to the Bears for wide receiver Marty Booker and a fifth-round pick.

Before the final news broke, Washington officials held out hope Ogunleye would spurn Chicago and the Dolphins would be forced to consider other trades. A deal with the Redskins likely would have involved wide receiver Rod Gardner and a draft pick, and the club was prepared to meet the Pro Bowl end’s financial expectations, team sources said.

Extra points

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles suffered bruised ribs on a 17-yard catch in the first quarter. He returned to play but later had a wrap around his midsection. The injury was not considered serious.

Among other minor scrapes, linebacker Kevin Mitchell sprained a finger when his hand was stepped on, and defensive end Renaldo Wynn had his lip split. Springs was bothered by a stomach virus and had to leave the game in the first quarter. …

Cornerback Walt Harris, who came off the physically unable to perform list last week, filled the third cornerback role. Harris missed the entire offseason while recovering from surgery to remove part of his patella tendon. H-back Brian Kozlowski started in place of Mike Sellers, who traveled but sat out with an ankle sprain. …

Linebacker LaVar Arrington (knee) headed up the list of players who did not make the trip. Also absent were linebacker Mike Barrow (knee), cornerback Rashad Bauman (hamstring), tight end Fred Baxter (knee), linebacker Chris Clemons (hamstring), wide receiver Darnerien McCants (ankle), wide receiver Cliff Russell (hamstring) and running back Ladell Betts (knee). …

The Redskins, for a third straight exhibition, did not introduce starters. The players claim the lack of individual introductions as a sign of team unity.

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