Thursday, October 27, 2005

A few times each Monday, when Washington Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson reviews the previous day’s game, he will see Sean Taylor do something so rare and jaw-dropping that Jackson simply will scratch his head.

It can be something as subtle as covering a receiver down the middle of the field or taking on a bruising tackle during a blitz. Or it can be something as highlight-producing as Taylor’s hit on Kansas City running back Priest Holmes or his interception return last week against San Francisco. It is rarely boring.

“His awareness of the game … I tell him sometimes, ‘Sean, you’re not supposed to do this … but good play.’” Jackson said. “He stretches things that as a coach I think are possible. I watch the film and say to myself that a player shouldn’t be able to get from here to there in that amount of time.”

Taylor, who at 22 years old remains the youngest player on the Redskins roster, has taken his game to a new level during the team’s 4-2 start. At the high-risk position of safety, where the smallest error could lead to a touchdown, Taylor has become more fundamentally and assignment sound and consistent.

“I would have to say I’m getting somewhat better because if I wasn’t, I don’t think I’d be helping the defense and we wouldn’t be winning as many games,” he said.

Taylor’s 21 tackles are tied for third on the team, and he has one interception. He did not practice yesterday because of a bum ankle but said he “should be” ready for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.

“He plays hard, studies hard, works hard and is really getting into a groove now,” Jackson said. “The experience he got from last year, he’s taken that to make a step forward. He’s got progressively better every week because of what he has learned.”

Chief on Taylor’s to-learn list following his 76-tackle, four-interception rookie season: try to do everything and you will miss the little things.

“That’s every player who likes to make plays and use his ability,” Taylor said. “But you have to know when and where and how. You can’t say, ‘I’m a good player, so I can do whatever I want,’ because if you do that, you’re letting 10 other guys down. I’m trying to do a better job of being where I’m supposed to.”

Said safety Ryan Clark, a close friend of Taylor’s: “Sometimes, when you’re so talented and athletic, you tend to want to go out of what the team wants you to do so you can make plays. This year, he’s totally focused on the system, making plays and being a Washington Redskin.”

With Taylor as a main contributor, the Redskins are ranked fourth in yards allowed (266 a game) and pass defense (157.5). His reputation as a crippling hitter is growing throughout the league.

“The quarterback comes out of the huddle, sees which way Sean goes and throws to the other side,” Jackson said. “He can run, he hits, he tackles — people don’t want to deal with that.”

Taylor has improved in three key areas: tackling — learning to use his hands to wrap up; decision making — staying with his receiver instead of going after the quarterback; and discipline — he has only one penalty this season, and his teammates and coaches have praised his maturity and leadership.

“Sean has the best ability of any safety in this league,” safety Matt Bowen said. “But football sense and maturity is a different thing. He’s made tremendous improvement in those areas, and things like body position, knowing where he is on the field, all those things.”

The best news for the Redskins is Taylor has stayed out of trouble off the field since reporting to training camp in August. It has been a year since his arrest for drunken driving (the charge was eventually dropped), and his trial on a felony assault charge and a simple battery misdemeanor has been delayed until Jan.17.

Taylor never will be confused with some of the more outspoken Redskins like Clark and defensive teammates Marcus Washington and Renaldo Wynn. But he has displayed a quick wit — he never passes up a chance to lambaste Clinton Portis’ choice of Thursday eyeglasses.

“He’s become so much more of a leader, so much more mature and so much smarter a player,” Bowen said. “It’s been really impressive to see.”

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