Browns rookie DT Phil Taylor having big impact
The proverbial rookie ''wall'' was no match for Browns massive defensive tackle Phil Taylor. He blasted right through it.
Before last week's game against St. Louis, Cleveland defensive coordinator Dick Jauron was concerned Taylor's play had ''leveled off,'' leading to speculation the first-round draft pick had reached the juncture in his first NFL season when young players are stopped in their tracks by mental and physical exhaustion.
Taylor rammed the Rams instead.
Taylor got his team-leading fourth sack and had five tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage, in Cleveland's 13-12 loss. Taylor was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise forgettable game for the Browns (3-6), who lost in the final minutes when a botched snap caused Phil Dawson to hook a 22-yard field goal.
''He had maybe his best game last week,'' Jauron said. ''He had worked hard leading up to it. The preparation was part of it. I do believe like we've said all along, that every week he learns a little more. Obviously, he's playing against different people and different schemes to some degree. There's a lot to learn in there and a lot to feel.
''He did a very nice job. He made some big plays for us, was a force inside at some critical times.''
Taylor wasn't about to gloat after hearing Jauron's praise. He shrugged and promised to deliver more.
''I think it was my best game,'' the big man said, offering a slight smile. ''But we've got seven games to go.''
Taylor's development up front is vital for the Browns, who selected him with the No. 21 pick in this year's draft after swapping first- and third-round picks with Kansas City. In Cleveland's 4-3 system, the tackles need to be active to tie up linemen and allow the linebackers to roam freely and make plays.
Week by week, Taylor seems to get more comfortable with his assignment.
''I believe like most young players that are learning the game at the NFL level, he still is feeling certain things,'' Jauron said. ''You need to get him to the part where he's just coming off the ball hard every snap, not feeling it, not waiting to see what happens. He will have a sense of what's going to happen around him and just exploding on every snap.
''He'll get there.''
Taylor agreed with Jauron's assessment that he may have been overthinking.
''Yeah, I was just trying to read too much, instead of just letting the game come to me,'' said the former Baylor star who began his college career at Penn State. ''I started to let the game come to me a little bit last week and that helped me a lot.''
Perhaps Taylor's best play last week came at the end of a 17-yard gain. Rams running back Steven Jackson was threatening to break off a monstrous run when he was chased down from behind by Taylor, who moves incredibly well for a man his size. It was the type of all-out, hustling play normally made by Ahtyba Rubin, the Browns' other defensive tackle who never stops moving.
Rubin's desire seems to be making an impression on his young teammate.
''Any young player playing around a player like Rubin, watching Rub play, it has to affect him, it has to rub off on him,'' Jauron said. ''That's how the game should be played. If you find yourself not doing that all the time, there's a strong reminder right there.''
And if Taylor needs to be reminded that he's only a rookie and it was only one game, Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is up for the task.
''He still has a long way to go,'' Jackson said. ''He's just got to understand that one game doesn't mean that you've arrived. We stay on him a bit so he won't lose focus. But he's been a great addition. He's been playing well and he's made major strides within the last few weeks.
''He just has to build off last week. We want him to dominate up front.''
The Browns, who host Jacksonville on Sunday, are pushing Taylor to excel on every play. Like all first-year players, he's at the point in the season where the body starts to break down and the mind may begin to wander. A year ago, Taylor was in the final stages of his college career. Now he's still got seven games to go, including four against AFC North powerhouses Baltimore and Pittsburgh, teams which can prey on rookies.
The team stresses to its rookies the importance of rest, eating properly and keeping their bodies fit for the long haul.
''It's just a longer season than they've ever experienced,'' Jauron said. ''Their body clock at some time might be telling that this football season is over, but it's halfway over in this league.''
And Taylor appears to just be getting started.
Notes: Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi went through practice week without any concussion symptoms and is expected to play Sunday. ''I'm real optimistic,'' said Massaquoi, who has missed two of three games since sustaining a concussion on Oct. 23. ''If I'm active, I'll feel comfortable. ... RB Montario Hardesty ran during practice and did drills, but did not get any reps during the team portion open to the media. Shurmur said Hardesty will be a game-time decision, but it's unlikely he'll return after missing two games with a torn calf muscle. ... S T.J. Ward, sidelined with a sprained foot, made a brief appearance in a walking boot. He had his cast removed earlier this week. ... Browns G Shawn Lauvao was fined $7,500 for head-butting Texans LB Brian Cushing in Nov. 6 game.