In 2005, Sean Taylor was the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It was Week 2 in Dallas and the Redskins had just taken a 14-13 lead late in the game. The Cowboys had a third and four at the Washington 42. Drew Bledsoe threw a short pass to Patrick Crayton, who gathered the ball in around the first-down line. Seconds later Crayton was trying to gather in his senses as he had been separated from them--and the ball—by a wicked hit by Sean Taylor.
Move forward to Week 8 in the Meadowlands. On the first play of the game, Tiki Barber went around the left end. Taylor rushed up to make the play, got a bad angle and could only watch as Barber set the tone for the game by running for 67 yards to the Redskins 16.
Now go to Week 12 in Washington. The Redskins led the Chargers 17-10 late in the fourth quarter. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson took at handoff at the Washington 32 and headed off left tackle. The Redskins had a run blitz called but a good block by the fullback got Tomlinson past the initial wall. Plan B for the Washington defense was Taylor, who was supposed to lay back as the last line of defense. However, Taylor played too aggressively, got caught in traffic and Tomlinson ran unchallenged for the tying touchdown in a game the Redskins lost in overtime.
In the late going in Philadelphia in Week 17, Washington was nursing a 24-20 lead in a game the Redskins had to win to make the playoffs. The Eagles had the ball and were driving to try to take the lead. With 3:11 to go, Phillip Daniels sacked Koy Detmer and the ball popped free. In a flash, Taylor plucked the ball off of the ground with one hand, bolted for the goal line and dove into the end zone to clinch the Wild Card spot for his team.
In the Wild Card matchup with Tampa Bay, Taylor returned another fumble for a touchdown before being ejected for spitting in the face of the Bucs' Michael Pittman.
Under normal circumstances, his low points may have been overlooked or written off due to inexperience. However, the fifth overall pick in the draft, as Taylor was in 2004, rarely gets the luxury of such slack being cut for him. Add to that the outside controversies have surrounded Taylor since he was drafted and you have a player with the spotlight glaring right in his eyes.
His most serious off-field issue, his arrest on felony charges in Miami a year ago, is starting to fade behind him following the plea bargain that will allow him to avoid doing any jail time and eventually will allow him to have a clean criminal slate. At least the legal aspect of the incident is fading away in the rear-view mirror. What is still lingering is the fact that Taylor was in Miami tooling around the projects in an ATV when he should have been back at Redskins Park polishing his knowledge of the defense.
Taylor's choice of offseason activities raised questions. Had he been at Redskins Park in May and June would the proper angles to take on running plays in particular situations have been better ingrained in him? Would he have been able to react better and think less? Was the jail time hanging over his head, a possible 46 years, a major distraction for him? Has he learned from his mistakes or will he exercise the same poor judgment that had him in Miami instead of in Ashburn last May again in the future? Was he scared straight by the whole incident or will the fact that he got off relatively lightly embolden him and make him think he is bullet proof?
Of course, we'll never know for sure but we do know that, at least so far, he has had no such distractions this year. Taylor has been in attendance for the Redskins' OTA's with minimal time missed to confer with his legal team. By all indications he is focused and working hard on preparing for the upcoming season.
We've seen bits and pieces of the on-field force that this rare combination of size and speed that is Sean Taylor can be. If he puts it together on a consistent basis in 2006 life will be very miserable indeed for the opposing offenses.