More Than Just A Pretty Face

By Mike Wise
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Goodbye, Derek Jeter. Peace out, Tom Brady. I don't want to be you anymore. I have a new man-crush. Someone taller, faster, more handsome and unbelievably polished replaced you, someone who makes the foxtrot more in vogue than the sprinkler.

Jason Taylor stepped toward the microphone in Ashburn yesterday in a suit of immaculate navy-pinstriped wool and a tie of burgundy sheen. He tried to pass himself off as an ornery sack man, a constant harasser of the quarterback, a six-time Pro Bowler brought in to shore up the Washington Redskins' decimated defensive line.

He tried so hard.

But the more the square-shouldered gentleman infused humor with humility -- the more he kept flashing the telegenic smile and saying all the right things about putting football before "Hancock II," about the "privilege and honor" of playing in the NFL, how he planned to make owner Daniel Snyder and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato "look like geniuses" for gambling on a 33-year-old career-long Dolphin who had spent time in Bill Parcells's doghouse -- the more it became clear:

The Redskins didn't trade for one of the NFL's elite defensive ends Sunday night; they traded for an ambassador, someone who could start the healing for everything that has ailed this franchise.

Phillip Daniels's season-ending knee injury on Sunday that led to the trade is just the beginning.

Taylor will be viewed as the quick fix for an organization that still hasn't properly addressed its pass-rushing deficiencies, one that needs to create the havoc Gregg Williams used to make it create.

He's also face-of-the-franchise material, less than six months after Joe Gibbs's sudden re-retirement directly led to the hiring of Jim Zorn, who, with no experience as an offensive coordinator or head coach, was given the job after a bizarre search.

Zorn seems like a genuine, homespun soul, trying his best not to be a deer in the headlights. Boy, can he use Taylor's suave and smart delivery, which will immediately siphon the cameras and the notebooks away from his neophyte coach and tired-of-talking teammates.

Part of his job, unfairly perhaps, will also be to fill the void of Sean Taylor. Less than a year after the young safety was murdered, Jason Taylor may be the only player on the roster with the same game-breaking defensive ability.

You can't help but feel a little concerned for him. For Taylor thinks he's coming to Washington to make a difference on a team that's in the playoff conversation again. When, in truth, the moment his introductory news conference ended he had the look and aura of a man who could fix awful things he had nothing do with.

"You do think about that," he said after he finished charming a cadre of television and print reporters. "I'm not here to be a savior. I'm one of the guys. I'm trying to fit in and be member of this team like everybody else.

"Now, I also like pressure. I expect more from myself than anyone else expects from me. But I'm not a savior. My big thing is, I want to win."

Bless his humility, but he's not merely one of the guys. For one, linemen don't look this good. They're supposed to be big, sweaty, hairy and gross, like Jason Fabini.

Of course there has to be a concern that he will be a poser and talk the talk more often than he lays a blindside lick on someone. After all, the great Bill Parcells soured on his commitment in Miami.

Please. The other two NFL alumnus from "Dancing With the Stars" are Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, Hall of Famers just as competitive as they are classy -- certainly classier than gruff and myopic men who try to administrate careers, men like Bill Parcells.

And yet, the idea of a metrosexual creating the same fear in an NFC East backfield as Dexter Manley, Charles Mann and Diron Talbert once did just seems incongruent, altogether odd. LaVar Arrington used to pass for a Renaissance man around here; a smartly dressed and articulate Taylor makes him look medieval.

In the team locker room yesterday someone remarked Taylor looked like Xerxes, the clean-shaven, baritone-voiced Persian king in the movie "300." Indeed, there was something about Jason Taylor that smacked of royalty.

Despite the presence and the polish, this is the same guy who spoke of how much he enjoys making quarterbacks nervous and of "making them do dumb things." He's got a wolf-in-sheep's clothing aspect about him. More than one NFL coach has called him "nasty."

But he simply can't replace all the people who ultimately led to his acquisition -- the injured, the aging, even the big hitter who was buried last November. He can't alone make the defense menacing.

But if Jason Taylor can get to Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Donovan McNabb, if he can show the fury and fire that marked six Pro Bowl selections, he doesn't have to be anything more in Washington than himself.

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