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After Tinker, Taylor Excels

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page D01

Sean Taylor sauntered off the field yesterday after another spirited performance during practice at Redskins Park. The Washington Redskins' rookie safety looked straight ahead, past reporters.

Taylor has refused all interviews since before Oct. 28, when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. During his media boycott, the only insight Taylor has provided is through his actions. And as the 3-7 Redskins sputter, Taylor has gradually developed into one of the NFL's top rookies.

Redskins' Sean Taylor breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Chad Johnson in loss to Bengals. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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During preseason, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder relied on his size and tremendous athleticism to flourish, yet started the regular season as a reserve, in part because he didn't recognize plays rapidly enough. However, Taylor has improved in several areas, especially grasping the nuances of receivers' routes.

"Each week, he's gotten better. Each week, he's gotten more comfortable," said Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, whose unit is ranked No. 2 in the league. "He's fun to watch play."

Taylor's study habits were questioned initially, but the Redskins now praise him for his increased preparation. Safeties coach Steve Jackson pointed out that if Taylor hadn't declared for the NFL draft as a junior at Miami, he would be a college senior this fall.

"He's had a chance to learn the system now, techniques and speed of the game," Jackson said yesterday, "and he's getting more confident."

Taylor has three interceptions (for 55 return yards) and one sack. But Williams expects him to generate more turnovers in the remaining six games. "He's got big-play ability," Williams said, "and we'd like for him to continue to think that way and not be afraid of making a mistake."

In a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago, Taylor had his best performance: a career-high 10 tackles (seven solo) and one interception. More impressive was his ability to read receiver routes and patterns while being active off the line of scrimmage. "I'm proud the most of his awareness of routes," Williams said.

Taylor followed with another strong performance in last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, helping hold Terrell Owens, the NFL's leading wide receiver, to a season-low two catches and 24 yards, including a 10-yard score.

In the third quarter, Taylor dived in front of Owens to intercept a Donovan McNabb pass. "There's not many people who could have made that [play]," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "That man closed ground like mad and snatched that ball."

Later in the third quarter, Taylor threw a forearm at Owens's jaw several yards from a play. The safety was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, giving Philadelphia the ball at the Washington 15-yard line. Three plays later, Owens's touchdown gave the Eagles a 14-6 lead.

Although Williams dislikes such penalties, the Redskins are pleased with Taylor's mean streak. "Great defenses play with an attitude," Williams said. "His attitude fits in great on the field. But we do not want things to happen on the field that hurts the team. There's always a fine line."

Taylor first refused to speak to the media during the first two weeks of training camp, in part because of an article detailing his early departure from the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium. But Taylor said his main reason was that reporters didn't warn him about a prank by linebacker LaVar Arrington during minicamp in June. Taylor eventually broke his public silence after being urged to by some teammates, including Arrington and cornerback Fred Smoot.

Arrington undertook a media boycott of his own last season, citing his belief that his comments were too often negatively misconstrued. After being drafted No. 2 overall in 2000, Arrington initially had a rocky relationship with the media -- it included a temporary boycott partly because of qualms with the coverage of a brief holdout during training camp.

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