Taylor back to his old stomping grounds

ATHENS – Everything about Tony Taylor's body says he's a middle linebacker.

He's 6-foot-1, 237 pounds, broad of shoulder and chest and downright stocky, but it wasn't always that way.

In 2003, Tony Taylor, then a sophomore, weighed less than 220 pounds and was terrorizing opponents as a weakside linebacker. He totaled 82 tackles, including four for a loss, and two interceptions that season and looked ready to be a full-fledged star in 2004.

However, a torn knee ligament ended that season before is started. Taylor, now a senior, spent 2004 rehabbing his knee and lifting weights. When he got bored, he'd lift more weights.

When he returned to the team, he was suddenly pushing 240 pounds and suddenly a middle linebacker. That worked, but not quite as well. Taylor missed three games due to injury and finished with 56 tackles.

Asked if he thought he was moved to middle linebacker just because he looked the part, the soft-spoken Taylor said, "I think I was."

Now, Jarvis Jackson, who played on the weakside last year, has moved back to the middle, and Taylor is back on his familiar, and productive, weakside.

"They tried it out, and I guess they felt like Jarvis does a better job with certain things," Taylor said, "and you've just got to roll with the punches. I hope this is the best thing for the team and me, but we'll have to wait and see."

Danny Verdun Wheeler, who has played all three linebacker spots, could tell Taylor was uncomfortable last year, he said.

"I think his style of play fits perfectly with weakside linebacker instead of middle," Verdun Wheeler said. "He's more relaxed (this year). I see him playing a whole lot faster. I really think that's his spot."

At weakside linebacker, Taylor has more pass coverage responsibilities and has more occasions to use his athletic ability instead of raw power.

"The great thing about the (weakside) position is he's out in space more, more playing the pass," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "He's exceptional in the passing game from a linebacker standpoint."

Taylor, an all-area soccer goalie in high school, likes that he'll be able to "freelance" a little more as an outside linebacker, and the mental aspect of the switch won't be a problem for a player who coaches and teammates alike say knows the defense better than any Bulldog.

"He can probably line up and play safety if we line him up at safety," Martinez said.

Taylor's not going anywhere this time, though.

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