BEREA—This is a big year for Phil Taylor, to say the least.
Taylor, 27, is in the last year of his rookie contract after being the Browns first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Browns picked up his option last season for over $5.477 million for the 2015 season.
Taylor is coming off of a season-ending knee injury from last year and the Browns drafted Danny Shelton with their top pick this year.
Taylor has been brought along slowly in his return from the injury and was asked if he expects to play in the first preseason game Thursday night against the Redskins.
“We’ll see how the week goes,” Taylor said after practice Monday. “I’m glad to be back but there’s no need to rush back and have a set back. We’re being careful.
“We’re just taking it step by step,” he said. “At first, I was just doing individuals and taking it step by step every day. Today was the most I’ve done since training camp began.”
Taylor played in just five games in 2014, with four starts at left defensive end. He injured his knee in the fourth game of the season against the Titans and had arthroscopic surgery, which caused him to miss the next four games.
He then returned to start against the Bengals on Nov. 6 when he re-injured the knee and was placed on injured reserve for the season. Taylor finished with just 10 tackles and a pass broken up.
"A lot of his reps we kind of leave it up to him, what he feels comfortable, cause he's still very much in recovery mode,” Mike Pettine said. “That's a hard thing, there's no way during the rehab to simulate taking on a double team and having six hundred plus pounds leaning against you and all that. He talks everyday, communicates well with coach Weaver and they'll have a daily plan for him."
Pettine said the Browns want to make sure Taylor is confident in where he is physically.
"Just feedback from him that he's confident,” he said. “With that injury, typically it will show up on tape especially when he starts to get tired you can tell if he's favoring one leg over the other. I just think time will tell with Phil."
Taylor (6-3, 335) has 140 tackles in his four seasons with the Browns, including seven sacks. Taylor started all 16 games as a rookie and had his best season with 59 tackles and four sacks. He played in 8 games in 2012 after spending the first half of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a pectoral injury. He played in 15 games in 2013 with 57 tackles and two sacks. He has missed 20 games in his first four seasons with the Browns.
Shelton could take over for Taylor in the long-term as Taylor has been switched to nose tackle after playing outside last season. Taylor is listed as the starter with Shelton right behind him.
“We already talk about it,” Taylor said. “Danny’s a great guy who brings a lot of energy to the defensive line. We all love Danny and embrace his role with his motor and he’s the big version of Rube (Ahtyba Rubin). Danny’s got some shoes to fill, but he can do it.”
Taylor was impressed with what he saw from Shelton in the Orange & Brown scrimmage, chasing down receiver Marlon Moore down the field and knocking him out of bounds.
“Amazing,” Taylor said. “That’s what we need he’s a big guy, a lot of people don’t think a 345-pound plus guy can run to the ball, but he can do it.”
Taylor thinks he and Shelton can be on the field at the same time in shoring up the 32nd rushing defense.
“This defensive line is probably the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here, depth wise,” Taylor said. “We have guy after guy after guy that can come in and not miss a beat. We just hope we can get the (fans) to clap for the defense, instead of always for the offense.”
Shelton thinks he and Taylor can make a strong duo.
“They’ll probably put us out there together,” Shelton said. “He’s doing great with his recovery. We just have to keep working together.”
Shelton said Taylor has been very helpful in his transition to the NFL level.
“He’s been great in the meeting room,” Shelton said. “He sits next to me giving me pointers. He’s been great.”
Pettine said that they’re looking at Taylor primarily on the inside at nose tackle now, but Taylor thinks he is versatile enough to play anywhere.
“I like to play all over because coach (Anthony) Weaver tells us to learn all of the positions because you never know where he’s going to put you in.”
Taylor said he hopes he will be able to stay with the Browns after this season and beyond.
“Cleveland will be my forever home,” he said. “I stayed up here the whole (off-season). I love it in Cleveland.”
Taylor said he knows this season will go a long way in determining his future.
“For anybody it is, but at the same time God has a plan and he’s going to work it out and I’m going to give 100 percent every play.”