By Jason La Canfora and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor will be on the field with the Washington Redskins for the first time this morning, with coaches and teammates envisioning his presence ultimately elevating all aspects of a defense long in need of a strong pass rusher.
Taylor traveled from Miami to Redskins Park yesterday and joined his teammates for evening meetings after a wild two days.
Taylor, the NFL defensive player of the year in 2006, ended his 11-year tenure with the Dolphins on Sunday, when the Redskins acquired him for two draft picks. Taylor, who turns 34 in September, had clashed with Miami's management throughout the offseason.
When the Redskins lost starting left defensive end Phillip Daniels for the season on the first play of training camp Sunday, they immediately pursued Taylor.
"A piece of my heart will always remain in Miami," Taylor said at his introductory news conference yesterday, "but I am happy to be a Redskin."
Taylor, who has more sacks than any NFL player since 2000 (100 1/2 ), provides an obvious upgrade to a line that often failed to pressure the quarterback consistently. Stationing a playmaker of his caliber opposite end Andre Carter (the only previous pass-rushing threat on the roster) should create opportunities for his fellow linemen, as well as for linebackers and defensive backs.
"The whole defense will benefit," middle linebacker London Fletcher said.
Taylor's age and desire to pursue a career in Hollywood kept some teams from trading for him -- the Dolphins began shopping him before April's draft -- but executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato and his staff were confident he could remain productive for years to come, and Taylor said he gladly will fulfill the two years left on his contract. "I'll be here for more than one year," he said.
"He'll be a good addition because he fits the type of guy we look for here," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "He's got the M.O. of a real nasty guy that plays the game for 60 minutes."
Blache said he has yet to finalize how he will fully use him, but Taylor is planning to move to the left side, with Carter staying on the right.
"While it will be different from what I've done the majority of my career," Taylor said of playing left end, "I have done plenty of it, and had some success over there, too."
The Redskins hope to be able to emulate more closely the multi-faceted pass rush the New York Giants rode to a Super Bowl championship last season. With Taylor here, teams no longer can double-team just Carter with a tight end or use a back to chip block him to negate the bulk of the pass rush.
Now opponents must choose which end to best account for, and if Taylor is on the left side, then he is generally facing the weaker tackle.
"Having Jason Taylor on the other side opens things up for the rest of the D line," Carter said, "because somebody will be free. You can't chip everybody, and somebody's lining up for a one-on-one rush."
For years, the defensive staff has been trying to get the tackles to collapse the pocket -- forcing quarterbacks to step toward the line and into high-traffic areas -- but now a two-pronged outside pass rush creates better matchups for the interior linemen as well. Taylor provides a package of speed and athleticism Daniels -- known for being stout against the run but lacking outside quickness -- did not.
"It gets them guards thinking they have to help the [offensive] tackles out a little bit more," starting defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery said of Taylor's addition. "As a tackle it gives you more room to work with, and you should be quicker than a guard."
With little disruptive rushing presence, the Redskins frequently have needed to blitz with linebackers and others to get to the quarterback and relied on a preponderance of man-to-man coverage in the secondary, with the corners getting little help on many routes. Adding Taylor should make quarterbacks hurry more often, and thus curtail the time defensive backs must cover.
"Getting Jason makes the quarterback have to throw the ball on time now," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "Now they can't just double-move us; they got to play us legit, because both of those guys can rush the passer. Teams need two or three good pass rushers in this league now. Look at all the best teams, and that's what they have."
Some NFL personnel executives wonder whether Taylor -- who weighs 255 pounds -- can withstand the rigors of playing the run as an every-down end at this stage of his career, though they did not doubt his ability to still hit quarterbacks. Blache praised Taylor's all-around game and said, "I think he's strong enough [to play the run], and we'll find out as we go into the season."
Taylor said, "I mix it up, and I'll play the run as good as I can for my size."
The executives expect opponents will try to station a tight end on Taylor's side and run at him to drain him through the course of games, forcing him to backpedal rather than surge on the pass rush. But even at 33, Taylor, several executives said, should continue to make plays and contribute.
"It's a significant upgrade over Daniels," one NFC executive said. "Will they sacrifice a little bit against the run? Sure. But that's a tradeoff we'd make, too, in that situation. They just got much better on the most critical down in football -- third down. They were desperate for a pass rusher, and they just got a good one."