Hefty hybrid

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Turk McBride did it. So did Robert Ayers. Malik Jackson, too. Defensive linemen with the versatility to play both end and tackle are worth their weight in gold because they fortify two positions.

Tennessee may have another such versatile Vol in its 2012 signing class. That would be Trent Taylor, an early enrollee from Lake Gibson High of Lakeland, Fla.

"He played defensive end the last two years but as a ninth- and 10th-grader he started at D-tackle for us," Lake Gibson head coach Keith DeMeyer told InsideTennessee.com. "I think he'll probably be down (tackle) in college but he is capable of playing both."

Like McBride, Ayers and Jackson, Taylor is a bit of a tweener. At 6-feet-2 and 270 pounds, he's a tad big for a Vol defensive end but a bit small for a defensive tackle.

Taylor may not be a tweener much longer, however. When he enrolls at Tennessee this month, he'll begin getting college-level strength training and nutrition. That should add some bulk to his frame.

"Once he gets on a three-square-meal-per-day plan, he could be a 290-pound kid," DeMeyer said. "With his quickness and speed, that would be a big plus."

In addition to quickness and speed, Taylor has what Vol coaches like to call "football IQ." He understands the game and sees things other players miss.

"His knowledge of the game has really helped him," DeMeyer said. "He recognizes formations, knows what teams do out of this formation and that formation."

None of these traits would be significant if Taylor failed to exploit them. That isn't the case. He plays the game with passion and purpose.

"He's got a great motor," DeMeyer said. "He goes all the time, and there's no slowing down. He has real good quickness coming off the ball.... As a competitor, it doesn't matter what the score is. He's going full-bore every snap."

Taylor's main shortcoming is one that affects almost every high school line prospect.

"He needs to get stronger, like most freshmen do," DeMeyer said. "It'll be a big help for him getting there in January, though. That will give him a leg up on the freshmen who come in in the fall."

After recording 96 tackles as a junior, Taylor added 75 more as a senior. DeMeyer said 35 of those were tackles for loss, including 14 sacks. Taylor's senior numbers might have been even more imposing if he hadn't started at offensive tackle, as well as defensive end.

"He was willing to move and play both sides of the ball for us," DeMeyer said. "In all my years of coaching I've never had a kid do that at the level he did. He took 140 snaps every ball game. That's great leadership, showing the other kids how important it is to win."

Taylor graded out at 79.5 percent as a blocker, earning all-star recognition on offense as well as defense.

"He was first-team all-area defensive end, first-team all-area offensive tackle and Area Defensive Player of the Year," DeMeyer said. "He also was first-team Florida Athletics Coaches Association all-region."

The coach described Taylor as "a great kid, a yes-sir, no-sir kid," adding: "His mom did a great job raising him, and he has a younger sister he helps take care of. He's the kind of quality kid you want to build your foundation on. We never had a lick of trouble from him in four years, on the field or off."

Like all freshmen, Taylor's impact will depend on how quickly he adjusts to the speed, physicality and complexity of the college game. DeMeyer thinks his protege will adapt reasonably well.

"He made a lot of improvement here because he got bigger and stronger and more knowledgeable — understanding that teams did certain things from certain formations. When he steps up to the next level, he'll need to think even faster but he will. He'll recognize the things he needs to."

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