Taylor's experience his biggest asset

A.J. Hawk and Abdul Hodge may be the future of the Packers, but Ben Taylor is the present. Taylor is using the experience that he gained while with the Cleveland Browns the past four seasons to be a front-runner for the starting job at strong-side linebacker for the Green Bay Packers this season.

The Packers will enter the season with two new starters at the outside linebacker positions. Hawk, the team's first-round pick and fifth overall of the recent NFL Draft, is a lock to start at the weak-side position. Veteran Nick Barnett will man the middle. Hodge, the team's third-round pick, will probably be playing middle linebacker some day for the Packers, but for now is learning the strong-side and middle linebacker positions, leaving Taylor as the clear-cut favorite to start.

Taylor, a three-year starter at Virginia Tech, had the option in March to re-sign with the Browns. He led Cleveland in tackles in 2005, but the writing was on the wall for him in Cleveland, just like it was for Na'il Diggs and Robert Thomas in Green Bay. Like the Packers, the Browns are seeking new blood at linebacker in their 3-4 defensive scheme and were content to let Taylor sign elsewhere. The Packers, who parted ways with Diggs and Thomas this off-season, offered Taylor a one-year deal for $665,280, plus a modest $50,000 signing bonus. That was all it took for Taylor to sign with the Packers and play in a defensive unit that allows linebackers to make plays.

"That's the thing with this defense, your linebackers are your playmakers," Taylor said. "The defensive ends are going to get pressure for you up the field and the defensive tackles are going to do all the dirty work. This defense is based for your linebackers to make plays."

It remains to be seen if Taylor can make plays. While he started 16 games for Browns and finished with 113 tackles last year, he did not have any sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries.

Taylor not only will be competing against Hodge in training camp for a starting spot, but second-year pro Roy Manning as well. Manning impressed the Packers as the season progressed last year and worked his way into the starting lineup twice. Still, Taylor's edge is experience.

"Ben's a real professional, a guy that brings good work ethic," said defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. "Attention to detail. We've been trying to double-train him (strong and weak-side) right off the get-go because he has some experience playing in games and everything. His experience and his knowledge of what it takes to be successful in the league has been beneficial to him."

Look for Taylor to start at linebacker early in season. Depending on how he performs, however, he may eventually be replaced by Hodge or Manning as a starter. But that's OK with him because he likes his chances not only this season but beyond in Green Bay.

"I was still a starter there (Cleveland) and everything like that, but the way the scheme was set up, and Green Bay gave me a little bit better offer, so things worked out," Taylor said. "I'm glad I'm here."

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