Snapshot: Ike Taylor

Red Zone Media called Ike Taylor "Superman" but anything under the headline "Best Athlete in the Draft, Hands Down, Period, Exclamation Point!" couldn't possibly qualify as hyperbole, except this: Taylor's 40 time was a reported 4.19. That's the kind of number that always puts a charge into veteran Steelers scout Bill Nunn.

"There's no such thing as a 4.19," Nunn said with his hearty laugh. "Bullet Bob Hayes never even thought about a 4.19."

For the record, the Steelers clocked Taylor in 4.33 and 4.35 at the acclaimed workout that was led in cheers by Taylor's uncle, Herman Francois, who held a sign reading, "We like Ike."

The Steelers agreed, drafting the 6-0 3/8, 191-pound speedball in the fourth round after their targeted cornerback, Rod Babers of Texas, had been drafted two picks earlier. Babers was the last of the corners the Steelers felt could step in this year and help in their dime package, so when he was selected the Steelers opted for the best project available. Taylor may not have run a 4.19, but his 4.33 and 44-inch vertical jump were enough for the Steelers to grade the workout at 1+, their highest grade. On the downside, Taylor played cornerback at Louisiana-Lafayette only one year.

"That's actually not a bad thing," said Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. "We can teach him from scratch. There aren't any bad habits to clean up."

Taylor was sent by his mother to the New Orleans suburb of Gretna, La., as a 12-year-old boy to live with Uncle Herman, who instilled a rigid work ethic in young Ike. At Abramson High, Taylor was a star running back, defensive end, cornerback and place-kicker before heading off to Lafayette, where he didn't walk on to the team until his junior season.

As a running back that first season, Taylor had his moments. He busted a 48-yard touchdown run against Arizona State, then a 65-yard touchdown run against North Texas. A game against New Mexico State signaled the good and bad of Taylor's abilities out of the backfield. He broke five tackles on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run that gave Lafayette a 38-20 lead, but later in the game let a pass clang off his hands and into the arms of a linebacker who returned it 42 yards for a 39-38 New Mexico State lead.

‘The ball-catching skills may be why they moved him," said Steelers secondary coach Willy Robinson. "He could not catch it out of the backfield."

And so Taylor found himself at cornerback as a senior, but it's where he feels most comfortable. In his first game, he held Texas A&M speedster Bethel Johnson to one catch and went on to have a fine season. Even though he couldn't hang on to an interception, Taylor proved he could run and jump with the best in the college game. He also proved he could support the run, and with authority. LSU's 229-pound LaBrandon Toefield's season ended with a broken forearm after encountering Taylor.

The NFL was slow to catch on to Taylor, who wasn't invited to the combine, but the attention eventually came in droves.

"He didn't get invited to the combine because no one really got to see him play," said Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "I mean, you did get to see him play. But when you do these other kids, you scout them as juniors. Blesto or National scouts them as juniors and then you pick up on them in their senior year. Well, this kid you started with him his senior year and the later people saw him the more they liked him. If you don't go to the combine, teams will usually bring you in for a physical because most teams won't draft somebody unless they've had a physical. That's why he visited 28 teams. Everybody knew about the kid but he's one that the combine missed."

Taylor was invited to the Hula Bowl, where he played alongside the player drafted ahead of him by the Steelers. Alonzo Jackson had three sacks and forced a fumble in the Hula Bowl. Taylor recovered the onside kick that led to the South's game-winning field goal in the last minute.

Obviously, the Steelers paid as much attention to this Hula Bowl as the one following the 1994 season when Kordell Stewart was named MVP after a 72-yard touchdown run. The Steelers drafted Jackson in the second round and Taylor in the fourth. Both are playing on the right side of their second-team defense.

After four practices at the recent rookie orientation, Steelers Coach Bill Cowher was asked for his thoughts on Taylor.

"Oh, he's raw," Cowher said, "not just with technique but with the whole understanding. We don't have a basic system. It's a pretty complicated system we have and there's a lot of communication that needs to take place, and you're playing at the next level, so it's going to be a growing process. He's got some very gifted athletic abilities but he's going to have to put that into the context of what we're trying to do schematically. It'll be an ongoing process."

Taylor is taking the same approach to his school work. He's two classes shy of a degree, which he's determined to obtain.

"Yes sir," Taylor said. "It's a must. It's a must. The dean's working with me on Internet courses. I'll have a degree in psychology."

Psychology? So you can read my mind?

"Yes sir," Taylor said with a smile.

And what am I thinking?

"Sir, I'm focusing on football right now."

One more question, Ike. Is a 4.19 40 possible?

"Yes sir," Taylor said. "It's possible. Anything's possible."

By Jim Wexell
Steel City

Previous Snapshots: Alonzo Jackson | Troy Polamalu

Steel City Insider Top Stories