Taylor Made Fit

He pictured a guy who was chunky, maybe a safety who looked like a linebacker. And a slightly paunchy one at that. Then Joe Gibbs saw Sean Taylor, all 231 pounds of him, in person. His jaw might not have dropped, but his opinion certainly changed.

''That sucker was tall and he was cut,'' Gibbs said. ''And he had a chest on him. He looked more like a receiver who weighed 205 pounds. He was much bigger and taller than what I expected.''

That wasn't when the Redskins settled on Taylor. But it certainly was a point at which Gibbs fell more in love with him. Add the 6-foot-2 Taylor's athleticism, speed and playmaking ability and Gibbs felt he was too good not to select. Even if it meant bypassing a tight end who could make his offense among the best in the NFL.

But the Redskins deemed Taylor a special player at a high area of need. He'll start at free safety with Matt Bowen returning to strong safety. Ifeanyi Ohalete will return to the bench, perhaps becoming a key special teams player once again.

Taylor, though, is the new man in the secondary after the Redskins selected him fifth overall. They settled on him in the days leading up to the draft, though they never leaked word of their desire, trying to keep alive any possible trades. One person even told an ESPN reporter this morning that they were leaning toward tight end Kellen Winslow.

Surprise.

In the end, it came down to Taylor's ability to have an impact on defense. He can hit like a linebacker and cover in the slot. He can also cover tight ends, a good attribute considering Jeremy Shockey (New York) and Jason Witten (Dallas) play in the NFC East.

''The thing that impressed me most,'' Gibbs said, ''is that we got out tape of the championship game he played against Ohio State and he made two fabulous plays. Not only that, he was all over the place. When people would break off the line of scrimmage on the far side of the field, he covered ground like you wouldn't believe.

''The fact that he can cover the field really gives you a lot of freedom up front. Our defensive coaches think he can play man for man in the slots, but he's also very physical.''

Taylor is a playmaker. At Miami, he finished with 14 interceptions, fourth on the Hurricanes' all-time list. He was a first-team All-America selection this past season when he intercepted 10 passes. He'll also help on special teams, where he blocked a punt in college and returned another punt for a touchdown (eight punt returns for 154 yards overall). He loves playing anytime. But it's at safety where he'll leave his mark.

''Your corners can be more aggressive when you have a guy like that playing behind them,'' Redskins assistant head coach of defense Gregg Williams, ''knowing he can go cover up a mistake the corner might make. He allows us to play more in the box which makes us better in run defense. Here's a guy who has special pass coverage skills. But he has to come up here and step up to the next level and play against pro receivers. I'm anxious to get him out here next weekend.

''He's a prototypical free safety, a ballhawking free safety. With his measurables -- his size, weight and speed -- he can become a formidable blitzer whenever you choose to blitz a guy like that. Where we think he's special is his ability to get the ball when it's in the air.''

Gibbs said he looks at Taylor from an offensive coach's perspective, knowing other coaches on that side of the ball might have to account more for him than most safeties.

''You'd better be talking to the quarterback that week that you've got to be looking that guy off,'' Gibbs said. ''You can't throw in the middle of the field unless you have a wide open shot because he makes up a lot of ground. If anything bounces around or is up in the air, hopefully he's a guy who gets it.''

The Redskins aren't bothered by his score of 10 (out of 50) on the Wonderlic test, saying Taylor has football smarts. They liked what they heard from him as he sat in on a defensive meeting during a recent visit.

They also love his aggressiveness. One knock on him in college, albeit a small one, is that he sometimes overpursued plays. Williams won't join in on that chorus.

''As a coach I'll never want him to slow down,'' Williams said. ''I've lived all my life trying to get guys to speed up. The fact that those guys make fast decisions and play aggressively and passionately, that's what you want as a coach. Those kind of guys don't need motivation. They're born with it.''

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