Tomlin effusive in praise of Taylor
By John Harris
Saturday, April 7, 2007
Don't look now, but new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and cornerback Ike Taylor are becoming joined at the hip.
Tomlin has made a point of singling out Taylor as a player the Steelers can't do without, one season after former coach Bill Cowher removed Taylor from the starting lineup for five games for giving up too many big plays.
Instead of giving up on Taylor, Tomlin is building him up. At last month's owners meetings, Tomlin presented his case for Taylor to the national media, and even ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is singing Taylor's praises.
"Here's a guy who could be a star who fell back," Kiper Jr. said. "He needs to have a big-time year."
Now more than ever, Tomlin needs Taylor to be successful.
In fact, considering how Tomlin has already gone out on a limb in support of Taylor, it isn't a stretch to say that Tomlin needs Taylor to have a big 2007 campaign.
"That's coming from the head coach, so that means a lot," Taylor said last week while taking a break at the Steelers' voluntary workouts. "A lot of people are saying one thing, and Coach Tomlin is saying, 'This is what I think.'
"We've got a new coach, a new season coming up, and I'm looking forward to it."
Of course, the Tomlin/Taylor love affair could vaporize if Taylor doesn't uphold his end of the bargain and become a shutdown corner again. However, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Tomlin, a former secondary coach at Tampa Bay, knows what he has in Taylor, despite his dropoff in performance last season.
Taylor is one of the biggest and fastest corners in the NFL. He's a 6-foot-1, 191-pounder with long arms who ran a 4.28 40 at his college's Pro Day. He plays left corner in a league in which left corners are hard to find and more difficult to replace.
Left cornerbacks are almost as important as quarterbacks and left offensive tackles. Because most quarterbacks are right-handed, their first look is to the left side of the field. Left corners are expected to shut down the other team's top wide receivers, who more often than not, line up on the left side.
Wherever the other team's top receiver goes, that's where Taylor goes.
Taylor is also the team's highest-paid defensive back. The Steelers have made a significant financial investment in Taylor, and it's up to Tomlin to unlock his talent.
"I've got all the physical aspects. It's just preparing myself mentally 110 percent. Fundamentals -- that's all it really boils down to," Taylor said.
"I talked with (Vikings Pro Bowl safety) Darren Sharper. He played with Coach Tomlin (at William & Mary) and Coach Tomlin coached him in Minnesota (as the defensive coordinator). It was nothing but good words coming from Darren. He said you're going to get coached.
"He's going to do simple things with you, but that's what people kind of look over, the simple things, and that's Coach Tomlin's philosophy. That's what's in my head from the last thing Coach Tomlin said: It's all about the simple things.''
Bad season or not, like it or not, left side or right side, Taylor is the Steelers' best cornerback and Tomlin's pet project.