Speed keeps Steelers' Taylor in the game
By John Harris
Published: Saturday, July 25, 2009
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Right before the start of the Steelers' final two days of voluntary practices in June, cornerback Ike Taylor was electronically timed in the 40-yard dash by speed coach Tom Shaw at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
Taylor was clocked in 4.26 seconds.
"We had a speed sign out here — it's a police radar gun they put on city streets,'' Shaw said. "We were running the 40-yard dash, and Ike ran 26 mph. The speed limit was 25, so Ike could have gotten a ticket for running.''
But seriously, folks.
"We had other guys running,'' Shaw said. "But 26 was a freak time. And he was just cruising.''
Taylor, 29, is a freakish athlete built more along the lines of a safety (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) than a corner. He also has a 42-inch vertical leap.
He ran 4.18 in the 40 (hand-held) at Louisiana-Lafayette's Pro Day in 2003 (he wasn't invited to the combine), prompting the Steelers to draft him in the fourth round that year despite the fact he played cornerback for only one season in college.
Taylor's speed and one-on-one cover skills influenced former Steelers coach Bill Cowher to start him ahead of veteran Chad Scott in Taylor's third pro season.
Taylor's world-class speed compensates for any lack of technique resulting from making the switch from running back to corner as a college senior.
Gil Brandt, the former Dallas Cowboys executive who now works for NFL.com and Sirius radio, rates Taylor among the top five cornerbacks in the league along with Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha, Denver's Champ Bailey, Philadelphia's Asante Samuel and Dallas' Terence Newman.
"All I know is he's pretty good,'' Brandt said of Taylor.
In 2008, Taylor enjoyed one of his finest seasons. He recorded a team-high 15 passes defensed while yielding only two touchdown receptions for the NFL's top-ranked defense.
Taylor's play has prompted comparisons to former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders.
"The thing with Deion was that when the ball was in the air, he just out-sprinted the receiver to the ball,'' said track coach Brooks Johnson, who is based at Disney's Wide World of Sports and has coached a runner at every Olympics since 1968. "He didn't necessarily have the best technique, and he didn't have the best initial coverage. But once the ball was in the air, he got to it (first).''
Johnson said Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes, who trains with Taylor in Florida, has "world-class" sprint mechanics.
"If you took the best guys in the Olympics and showed their technique and showed (Holmes') technique, you couldn't tell if he was a football player or a track star,'' Johnson said.
But as fast as Holmes is, Taylor is faster — even with lesser technique.
"Form and technique, you can tell it's not the most important thing because Ike doesn't run like an Olympic sprinter," Shaw said. "The key to Ike's success is his speed. Ike runs like a football player who is fast. Now he's really learning the game of football. He's learning more and more how to play corner.''
Shaw coached Sanders at Florida State in track and later as a star cornerback in the NFL. He gives Taylor the nod over Sanders in the speed department.
"Ike is the fastest kid I've ever trained,'' Shaw said.
Shaw said that would include Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, who ran the fastest time ever at the combine (4.24), and Sanders, who ran a 4.27 for No. 2 on the combine list.
Taylor, who is entering his seventh NFL season, said he has the potential to run faster as he gets older.
Johnson, the track coach, is familiar with Taylor's running style and offered a comparison to Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, who Johnson said ran faster at 31 than he did at 21.
Taylor said he can do the same thing — thanks to a technique adjustment.
"Tall guys have long strides," Taylor said. "I was kind of like a tall guy with a short stride. Now I'm running like a tall guy. I'm gaining more ground in my steps. I'm gaining weight, running faster and getting stronger. I can wake up, no stretch, no nothing, and run a 4.3. All day.''
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