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Harris: Taylor's work ethic inspires

| Tuesday, May 5, 2009

There are team leaders, and then there's Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor.

Unofficially, Taylor is the new go-to guy on defense, a high-energy shutdown corner whose animated passion on the field is second to none.

With Deshea Townsend, who turns 34 in September, playing nickel and dime back, Taylor has become the team's veteran starting corner.

Last month, Taylor restructured his contract to help the Steelers re-sign outside linebacker James Harrison to a $51.175 million deal, a franchise record for a defensive player.

Taylor is also tutoring William Gay, who is expected to start opposite Taylor at left corner. Taylor asked Gay to join him in Orlando, Fla., to train with speed and conditioning coach Tom Shaw, and Gay accepted.

At the conclusion of Sunday's mandatory three-day minicamp, Taylor and Gay made plans to return to Florida to train until voluntary workouts resume May 19-21. The two had been working out in Florida since the end of the first voluntary team practices prior to last week's NFL Draft.

With Shaw's help, Taylor ran a 4.18 40 at his college's pro day. Taylor's speed led the Steelers to draft him in the fourth round despite playing only one year at cornerback.

Gay, timed at 4.5 in college, is looking for an edge to run with the league's fastest receivers.

"He said anytime you want to work out, come down," said Gay, a fifth-round pick. "Going down there with Ike, a proven vet, being down there in the heat, that's what I like. We call that fourth-quarter heat. If you can battle through that, you can battle through anything."

The similarities between Taylor and Gay are striking.

Both players were late-round draft picks who had to battle their way into the starting lineup.

Taylor became a starter in 2005 in his third pro season when he replaced Chad Scott. Gay is set to replace departed free agent Bryant McFadden and become a starter in his third season.

"Your mind-set is different. They're game-planning you now," said Taylor, who turns 29 today. "It ain't like we're substituting and the other team is game-planning Ike and Troy (Polamalu). Now you're in the game plan — they're going to come at you. The game's on the line every play. If they feel like you've got a weakness, they're going to try to expose it. That's the difference between alternating and being a full-time starter."

Steelers third-round draft pick Keenan Lewis, a cornerback timed at 4.5 in college, should consult with Gay regarding his offseason workout schedule. Lewis trained with Taylor, a fellow New Orleans resident, in Florida prior to the draft.

As minicamp concluded Sunday, Lewis said he would return home and train with fellow third-round pick Mike Wallace, a wide receiver and another New Orleans native, rather than resume his training with Taylor.

Gay's advice to Lewis would be to change his plans.

"Last year, Ike told me to come down to Florida, but I had a trainer back home. This year, I had a great trainer for working out, but I wanted to get the work done on the field," Gay said. "Just going down there working with Ike, if I can learn and get better like him, I want to do that. Why not work with the No. 1 corner on the team?"

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