Last season, just weeks before fall practice was going to begin and as the summer strength and conditioning program was wrapping up, down went Vili Leveni. Leveni was being counted on as the leader and the main force at defensive tackle. He would lead a younger group of defensive tackles into the season including sophomore Vincent Taylor.
Taylor was talented but still young, still somewhat inexperienced. Taylor still had to earn that stamp of I know what to do when the you know what hits the fan. You see defensive tackles have the job of messing things up for an offense. They plug up holes and form a human road block. They bull their way through to get penetration and cause the offensive line to break down, kind of like cracks springing up in a huge dam. It's just doing your best to create a mess.
Taylor is pretty good at it. Taylor is creating those messes that defensive coaches love to see. He came through last season big and and did it from almost the start of the season finishing with 48 tackles, 30 unassisted, five sacks, and 8.5 tackles for losses complimenting standout defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean.
He was ferocious enough and hard to handle so that offensive lines could not shift their focus outside and had to concentrate on blocking plays inside-out the way a defense is set up to deal with the zone reads, the zones, powers, and the run pass options.
Taylor was a force! Now he is a leader on the defensive front as spring practice winds down for the Cowboys.
"It has gone good so far. I just have to use each practice and I can't be satisfied with where I'm at," Taylor said of this spring. "I have to work on the things that Coach (Joe Bob) Clements has me to work on, like my steps, my pad level, and my hands."
That is something that Clements and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer love. Taylor is hungry and doesn't take anything for granted. He keeps pushing, working, studying to get better. He is already one of the most trustworthy players on the defense. Either way he is having fun in his role in the defense.
"Yes sir, without a doubt, these last two practices, the defense we have picked it up and we are just having fun and trying to make plays," the San Antonio Madison High School product said with a big smile.
Last season Motekiai Maile started at tackle next to Taylor and that worked well. Freshman Darrion Damiels played really well for a first-year player and veteran Eric Davis played the best of his career. This spring, Leveni has sat out, the coaches not wanting to risk any setback,but Taylor is excited for Leveni to be back full-time this fall.
"I'm very excited and Vili and I be texting every night and I tell him I can't wait to have him back," Taylor said. "He actually is out here some and is excited to get any work he can and I'm excited to have him back. He can come right in and help us out. We can be as good as we want to be. We just have to be on the same page and listen to the coaches and have fun."
Even with Leveni returning inside, defensive end Ogbah, Bean, and Trace Clark are gone and the defensive ends are young. There are also some younger tackles including talented redshirt freshman Taaj Bakari, who has shown some talent this spring.
"Like he said, we've got a few guys, but when guys get in there they just have to take advantage of every rep, the young guys are in there then they have to show Coach Clements they can play and that they know the playbook," Taylor added.
Defensive line seems to be in really good shape, seems to be deep, and thanks to Taylor is loaded with a really strong leader.