Steelers Rookie Gets His Shot

<b> PITTSBURGH -</b> Ike Taylor didn't watch the Bill Cowher press conference on TV the other day, so he had no idea his life was about to change when he reported to work with the rest of the Steelers on Wednesday. <br><br> Taylor was called into his coach's office, told Deshea Townsend would replace Dewayne Washington, and that he, the rookie cornerback from Louisiana-Lafayette, would play on passing downs Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. <br><br> Is Taylor excited?

"Very excited," he said with a look of confidence that he quickly betrayed.

"I'm trying to keep my composure. I'm trying to act like a vet, like I've been doing it, but there are a couple of butterflies going around the stomach."

Taylor might not know enough to be nervous. He played cornerback only one year in college and was deemed raw by most scouts who came to his school to look at the team's other cornerback, Charles Tillman, a second-round pick who's enjoying success as a starter for the Chicago Bears. Taylor's noticed.

"He's doing good. He's loving it," said Taylor. "Hopefully, I can do the same."

Taylor said he'd call Tillman the first, er, second opportunity he had yesterday.

"I gotta call momma first," he said. "Then I'll call Charles."

Taylor's not the most talkative player on the team, but he may be the most athletic. Internet reports circulated last April that the 6-0 3/8, 191-pound Taylor had run a 4.19 40-yard dash at a pre-draft campus workout. He hadn't been invited to the combine, so nearly every team was in attendance, and the times varied. The Steelers timed Taylor at 4.33 and 4.35 and measured his vertical jump at 44 inches, so they graded his workout at 1+, their highest possible grade.

That athletic ability has been evident during his work as a Steelers kickoff returner and in kick coverage. Taylor leads the Steelers with 21 kickoff returns, 486 yards, an average of 23.1 and a long of 53 yards. In coverage, Taylor has six solo tackles, one behind leaders Troy Polamalu, Chris Hope and Clint Kriewaldt.

No one has ever doubted Taylor's athletic prowess, not with runs of 48 yards against Arizona State and 65 yards against North Texas on his junior-season resume. Scouts did, however, question whether he'd be know enough to play cornerback in the NFL as a rookie. Taylor was asked about his grasp of a Steelers' defensive scheme, one that allegedly requires a Mensa-like I.Q.

"The defense is complicated but you've just got to prepare yourself," Taylor said. "Once your number's called, you stick up to the task."

Taylor had to "stick up to the task" once already. He played right cornerback for a few snaps at the end of the Steelers' opening-day rout of the Baltimore Ravens. He even broke up a pass in his limited opportunity. Was that his best moment on the field?

"Every moment on the field is my best moment," he said with a smile. "Once I'm on the field I'm always comfortable. That's my comfort zone. So every time I step on the field I always feel comfortable."

The same can said of Townsend, who'll make his first start for the Steelers that wasn't forced by an injury. Townsend, though, has been around for six years, or as long as Washington's been with the team, and has made nine starts, including one in last season's playoffs against Cleveland.

"It's not like I'm a new guy," said Townsend. "Hopefully when the ball's in the air, I can make some plays."

That might be all a cornerback needs to know. See the ball; get the ball. Taylor should be able to handle it.

"Whatever the coach wants, whatever the coach needs," Taylor said. "I'll just step up to the plate."

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