Taylor turns to receiver for tips

| Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008

Ike Taylor has made six interceptions since becoming a starter in 2005.

The Steelers cornerback said that total should be closer to 25.

"At least eight a year," Taylor said of how many interceptions he could have made the last three seasons.

Exaggeration or not, Taylor went on the offensive to correct perhaps the one thing that has prevented the sixth-year veteran from taking the next step in a solid career. In an effort to improve the hands that have too often failed him, Taylor crossed over, if only briefly, to what has to be considered the dark side for defensive backs.

Instead of shadowing Santonio Holmes during workouts that preceded the start of training camp, Taylor became the Steelers wide receiver's shadow.

He ran the same routes as Holmes, joined the third-year man in various pass-catching drills and essentially trained as if we were a wide receiver.

Holmes may be four years younger than Taylor, 28, but he became the latter's mentor when the two were in Orlando training with a handful of other Steelers players at the Tom Shaw Performance Enhancement center.

"With Ike, I was telling him some of the keys and techniques I use as a receiver on attacking the ball, to never blink when the ball's coming at you," Holmes said. "Most DBs are taught to knock the ball down."

Attacking the ball is simply getting one's hands out in front of their body instead of waiting for the ball to come to them. It does not come easily to cornerbacks simply because, as Holmes said, of the nature of their position.

"(Taylor) always talked about how much trouble he had catching the ball," Holmes said, "so we just continued to have conversations about it."

It is not uncommon for cornerbacks to have trouble catching, and not just because suspect hands landed more than a few of them on the defensive side of the ball.

When cornerbacks are in coverage, they are usually watching a receiver and not the opposing quarterback. As such, they might not see a ball until well after it has left the quarterback's hand.

Catching such balls, consequently, is comparable to trying to catch them in the dark.

That explains a drill that is part of Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend's offseason training regimen.

Townsend, who starts opposite Taylor, will stand with his back to someone holding a football. When he hears "Ball!" Townsend turns around and tries to catch the football that has been thrown. He never knows whether it is going to be high or low or left or right, and Townsend said it simulates the adjustments cornerbacks often have to make in games.

"A lot of us don't catch many balls," Townsend said, "so we've got to get out there and work to make our hands better."

Taylor said too many balls have bounced off his hands in recent seasons.

That is why the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder worked so closely with Holmes and why he has been focusing on pass-catching fundamentals such as watching the ball all of the way into his hands.

"It will take care of itself," Taylor said of his struggles with dropped balls. "I promise you that."

If it does, Taylor, who led the Steelers in interceptions (three) last season and finished second in tackles (90), could snag a Pro Bowl selection.

"I expect big things from him," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's a veteran, but he always comes out here looking for a winning edge."

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