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Taylor assumes leadership role for Steelers defense

| Friday, July 27, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor takes part in defensive drills during the first day of training camp at St. Vincent College July 26, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor during drills the first day of camp at St. Vincent College July 26, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor during drills the first day of camp at St. Vincent College July 26, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Ike Taylor during OTAs on the South Side May 23, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Ike Taylor during OTAs on the South Side May 23, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has allowed holdout receiver Mike Wallace to stay in his Florida residence while training with fitness guru Tom Shaw. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers Ike Taylor during OTAs on the South Side May 23, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor sprinted up and down the practice field almost effortlessly at St. Vincent College. He turned in more than the required reps, in part to encourage struggling linemen — including rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu — to finish the last, gut-wrenching steps.

“Ike is pushing everyone,” defensive tackle Ziggy Hood said Thursday. “But this team is known for the old guys helping the young guys. We wouldn't go as far as we have if we didn't function that way.”

For Taylor, this training camp is unlike any other.

He has been thrust into a leadership role, considering the Steelers' defense will begin the exhibition season at Philadelphia on Aug. 9 without four significant role players — linebacker James Farrior, defensive end Aaron Smith, nose tackle Chris Hoke and cornerback William Gay.

“I have to pick and choose when is the right time to talk with the team or if I have to talk with somebody individually,” Taylor said. “If I feel there's a need to say something in front of everybody, I'm going to say it. I'm not a vocal leader at all. I try to lead by example.”

Taylor exudes calm and confidence. He is blunt and direct, leaving little room for misinterpretation.

“I feel it's the way you have to be in life,” Taylor said. “Sometimes, it's not what you say but how you say it, because you can't talk to everyone the same way. At the same time, if you approach them right, you might get your point across.”

Taylor, too, if only reluctantly, is determined to prove he's better than his last outing at Sports Authority Field at Mile High during a 29-23 AFC Wild Card playoff loss. The Broncos torched the Steelers' secondary for a game-winning 80-yard score on the first snap of overtime.

Taylor and the Steelers' secondary will have an opportunity at redemption when the Steelers open the regular season in Denver on Sept. 9.

“Your memory has to be super short when it comes to playing cornerback,” a sometimes-stoic Taylor said. “If not, you won't be here.

“What people remember last is who got beat. They don't think anything about the front line or anything about the linebackers missing plays or missing tackles or getting beat by a tight end or receiver. They know about that secondary.”

The Denver game is long gone in his mind, he said.

“You have to have an attitude that you're going to have more good games than bad games,” Taylor added. “We'll have another opportunity to let people know what we can do.”

For much of this preseason, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will be watching every move of Gay's potential replacement — fourth-year veteran Keenan Lewis and second-year corners Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. Taylor isn't lobbying for any, but he's likely to have input.

“The door is open,” Taylor said. “The window is narrow, but they have an opportunity to be a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers and to help this team during the course of 16 games. It's all on the shoulders of the individual who wants to take it.

“I don't want to put them in a corner like that. It's hard playing corner. I respect everyone playing corner, because it's not easy.”

At times, it wasn't easy for Taylor and the secondary last season. There were stretches of brilliance, but also occasional lapses in concentration during losses to Baltimore, San Francisco and Denver.

For Taylor, the preseason is a time to backspace the errors. And a chance to assume the role of leader, particularly on an evolving defense.

“I've known Ike since before I came here, and he's the type of guy who is selfless,” Lewis said. “We had a couple of players who couldn't make the (conditioning) run, but he ran with them — that's Ike.

“Everything I've got within me, I'm willing to lay it on the line for Ike. I know 100 percent that that's what he's doing.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

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