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For Taylor, It's One Fine Hit After Another

Redskins Safety Garnering an Unsavory Reputation for Aggressive Play

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2004; Page D01

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston suddenly halted at the end of a deep pattern against the Washington Redskins two weeks ago as quarterback Donovan McNabb's pass fell to the ground only a few yards away.

"Unbelievable. You've heard of alligator arms," said ESPN analyst Joe Theismann during the Dec. 12 broadcast of the game, citing a term often used when football players stop short to avoid a collision. "This is alligator body."

Rookie Sean Taylor went four consecutive games with a personal foul or fine levied against him. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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Pinkston explained his abandoned route by saying that he lost the ball in the FedEx Field lights. But Washington's defensive players suspect that Pinkston gave up on the ball because he feared getting hit by Redskins rookie safety Sean Taylor.

"That was probably the only one that everybody got to see and point out," Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot said yesterday. "It's been many of those this season. Believe me. Receivers don't like to get hit, especially going deep. And right now I have somebody behind me that will try to kill you if you catch a deep ball."

Cornerback Shawn Springs was more diplomatic.

"I don't want to call Todd out like that, but it could have been," Springs said. "Sean makes people think twice."

In his first NFL season, Taylor has made an impact not just with his ball-hawking skills, but with a mean streak. The 6-foot-2, 231-pound safety strikes an imposing figure, and he adds to his look by inserting a set of glistening gold false teeth into his mouth before each game. Nothing is as intimidating as one of Taylor's haymaker hits.

Linebacker LaVar Arrington has dubbed him "the grim reaper."

The aura appears to have helped Taylor become a first alternate for the Pro Bowl, and the 21-year-old is a leading candidate to become defensive rookie of the year. The only defensive rookie who clearly has a statistical edge over Taylor is cornerback Dunta Robinson of the Houston Texans.

The drawback is that Taylor appears to have garnered an unsavory reputation on the field based on an accumulation of personal fouls and fines. The Redskins don't want Taylor to lose his edge, yet they expect him to eventually discover the line between aggressive and over-aggressive play.

"We don't want penalties by anybody that hurts the football team," Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, said yesterday. "There's an aggressive way you have to play the game, and there's an attitude you have to play on defense. But you also have to play smart."

Said Springs: "You don't want to kill his desire right now, but after a while he will smarten up about how he uses his mean streak. It's a fine line."

Taylor escaped a league fine or personal foul for the first time in four games during last week's 26-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. In the previous two games, the NFL fined Taylor a total of $17,500 for unnecessary roughness.

He was fined $10,000 for hitting Eagles wideout Terrell Owens just after he scampered out of bounds. (The late hit caused Owens to bowl over a Redskins cheerleader on the sidelines.) And Taylor was whacked $7,500 for a late hit on New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, slamming the rookie to the ground on an incomplete pass.

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