Rookie CB Taylor Experiencing Trial By Fire

Posted Oct 9, 2013

Second-round draft pick forced to respond to unexpected tests.

Coaches like to see their young players tested in different ways during games, but not even the toughest defensive backs coach could have drawn up the type of challenge Miami Dolphins rookie cornerback Jamar Taylor faced two weeks ago.

Taylor, a second-round pick and one of two cornerbacks drafted by Miami in the first three rounds of April’s NFL Draft (Will Davis in the third round), was making his NFL debut on the road on Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints. A nagging groin injury stemming from a sports hernia surgery he had back in May had kept Taylor off the field for the majority of training camp, the preseason and the first three regular-season games.

After a strong week of practice, Taylor had convinced the coaching staff he was ready to play and the intent was to have him contribute on special teams and to be available in the secondary if need be. But an injury to starting cornerback Nolan Carroll in the second quarter changed those plans, and the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Boise State graduate suddenly found himself lined up opposite Saints tight end Jimmy Graham – all 6-7, 265 of him – on a first down from the Miami 27. New Orleans already was ahead, 7-3, and the sold out Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd was as loud as could be.

“Yeah, that would be it,” said Dolphins defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo when asked what the toughest first exam he could think of to give to his young corner would be.

Graham managed to get behind Taylor into the left corner of the end zone where Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with him and he made the leaping catch over Taylor with cornerback Brent Grimes and safety Chris Clemons closing in. It wasn’t the first time this season that Graham had come up with such a catch, but it did take away from the fact that Taylor actually had decent coverage on the route.

“It was a double move, which (Taylor) didn’t bite on,” Anarumo said. “He lost a little bit of leverage and he could have been in a little bit better position, but the one thing about the guy was on the sideline he was calm. It wasn’t too big for him and he’ll just keep getting better from here. … That’s literally a test under fire there.”

Taylor, who celebrated his 23rd birthday the day before, finished that game with one solo tackle as Miami lost, 38-17, and he quickly realized how much different the caliber of play is in the National Football League compared to the Mountain West Conference. His demeanor, however, impressed his teammates as well as his coaches because he didn’t shy away from his expanded role the rest of that evening and was ready again last Sunday at home against the Baltimore Ravens when Carroll was shaken up again.

Defensive backs, especially cornerbacks, need to have short memories and also need to have a knack for analyzing situations and studying ways to avoid repeat breakdowns. Taylor graduated college with a 3.5 grade point average, a bachelor’s degree in communication and is working on his master’s in kinesiology, so to hear him explain what happened on the play is insightful.

“I had good coverage but I should have just stayed outside of him,” said Taylor, who earned first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors as a senior at Boise State with 51 tackles (35 solo), four interceptions and 2.5 sacks. “If I had stayed outside of him it could have been more of a jump ball. I moved inside of him at the snap and kind of second guessed myself and then I was just running side-by-side. You can’t run side-by-side with a big boy like that because all he’s doing is playing basketball. If I was on the other side of him I could have seen the ball better and tried to use him to get the ball, but it was a mistake that I’m definitely going to try to fix in practice and continue to get better.”

One way Taylor is getting better is by watching Grimes, a Pro Bowler back in 2010 now in his seventh season in the league. The 30-year-old former Atlanta Falcon is serving as a mentor to Taylor and Davis, which is something he really didn’t have when he broke into the league back in 2006 as a member of the Falcons’ practice squad.

Grimes has embraced his role in the secondary both as the number one cornerback and as the veteran leader among the cornerbacks. He talked to Taylor immediately after the play with Graham and reminded him about the lessons he taught and wasn’t at all concerned about how Taylor was going to respond.

“Whatever they need I’m there,” said Grimes, who has 14 career interceptions. “If they have a question or whatever I’m always there to help them out. Of course everybody has a little bit of nerves anytime. A 10-year vet or a 12-year vet, still when the game first starts they’re a little hyped but as it goes on you realize it’s just football. (Taylor and Davis) are doing a good job of just going out and playing their game when their number is called.”

Taylor has taken advantage of Grimes’ mentorship both on the practice field and in the film room and already has learned quite a bit.

“Just to play with good eyes. He plays with tremendous eyes on receivers, and just to have good feet,” Taylor said. “He gets in and out of his breaks so fast, sometimes you’re just kind of like, ‘Wow,’ how he breaks and how he turns and flips and jumps and all that type of stuff, so really just having good eyes on the field and good technique. And then in the film room it’s just about paying attention and then sometimes if you start thinking too much I remember he told me to just play, because at the end of the day it’s just football and it’s about having fun.”

Once the Dolphins return from the bye and prepare to host the Buffalo Bills at Sun Life Stadium on October 20th, Taylor hopes to join Grimes in creating more fun.

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