MADISON – Of all the valuable lessons A.J. Taylor learned his first season as a Wisconsin wide receiver, recognizing that everyone has a vital role for the betterment of the group would be right at the top.
While Jazz Peavy was the group’s statistical leader last season (not to mention being fourth on the team in rushing), he wouldn’t have accomplished that without graduated senior Rob Wheelwright commanding double teams, senior George Rushing needing attention in three receiver sets and classmate Quintez Cephus executing downfield blocks to break big runs
“The importance was in the details and how the details of the game work,” Taylor said. “The receivers have to work together. It’s not just us, even the tight ends and the running backs. I’ve learned how everything works together, and just to get that experience from watching other players who were great players, seeing them be in the zone and do what they do best was helpful.”
The graduation of Wheelwright means Wisconsin needs to find a consistent No.2 receiver to prevent teams from doubling Peavy and getting away with it. Taylor has the skill set to do that after wearing many hats during his high school career at Kansas City (MO) Rockhurst, where he was a Semper Fidelis All-American and a first-team all-state running back.
Being able to pare down his list of responsibility and focus on one position last season was considered a blessing, although it did have its drawbacks.
“The easy part was just being able to be a receiver, because my high school receiver coach played in college and was able to teach me a few things,” Taylor said, who finished last season with three catches for 53 yards and four rushes for 19. “The hard part was transitioning from the power and explosion of running back to the speed and running more distance and route running of receiver. Getting my wind up for that was probably the hardest part, and I’m still adapting to that.”
During team drills Tuesday, Taylor hauled in a pass that he’s consistently caught throughout spring. Lined up in the slot, he used his natural speed to sprint out of his stance, cut across the middle of the field after a few paces and haul in a pass full speed between the hash marks. It’s a route that he’s learned to perfect over the last year.
“He’s more comfortable,” wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore said. “He understands the concepts now. He’s understanding spacing on the field. Now we’re just fine tuning and getting better on route running, technique and blocking, but he’s feels like he knows what he’s doing.”
While one catch in practice can give a small dose of confidence, Taylor said it doesn’t compare to fixing a correctable mistake.
“When I actually know I made a mistake, that gives me the most confidence,” Taylor said. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes, more than I can count, but I believe it’s a good thing. Some probably aren’t as good, because they are things I should know, but they are good to learn from.”
With many players making a big jump from their first year to the second year, Taylor said his main goal of improvement this offseason is reacting to the defense and still running the design route. Last season Taylor would tend to let the defense affect him to the point where he would out of place and the timing would disjointed. Those problems get cleaned up by simply running better routes.
With one week remaining in spring practices, Taylor sees himself in position to impact an offense with big potential.
“I need to be even more precise,” Taylor said. “I’ve got some details down but there’s more to work on. I need to play the game full speed without thinking. That’s something I need to get to.”