By Jeremy Hritz
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor was playing some of the best football of his career before his season ended on a broken ankle against the Baltimore Ravens on December 4th. While he was not picking off passes in bunches, Taylor continued quietly in his staple role with the Steelers as defender of the marquee receiver. No matter whom the receiver, Taylor shadowed him and was largely responsible for the outstanding performance of the pass defense.
A season before in Denver, there were many question surrounding Taylor’s ability to effectively man the responsibilities of cornerback in the NFL, after getting burnt like Santonio Holmes by Demaryius Thomas on prayers from Tim Tebow’s oft-criticized arm. In that game, Taylor’s failure to make a tackle in overtime single-handedly resulted in the Steelers’ early exit from the 2011 playoffs.
In 2012, there were concerns that Taylor’s confidence would be shaken and that he would not be able to recover and plan an integral role on defense. In the first few games of 2012, that supposition proved true as Taylor was responsible for allowing a 118.5 quarterback rating on passes thrown his way, in addition to four touchdowns in five games. His play reached a nadir against the Tennessee Titans in which he struggled against Kenny Britt. At the game’s conclusion, Taylor’s total number of pass interference penalties for the season had reached seven, and most believed (myself included), that his season was a disaster without hope.
What followed Taylor’s abhorrent play was a string of solid games in which he asserted himself once again as the Steelers best cornerback on the number one ranked passing defense in the National Football League.
Heading into the 2013 season, we should expect nothing less than exemplary play from Taylor with no lingering effects from his injury, and we should know, from experience, that if he struggles early on, that he has the ability to rebound. Taylor is the epitome of preparation when it comes to the Steelers, and his offseason conditioning from his work with Tom Shaw always ensures that he is physically ready for the year. His dedication in the offseason sets an example for the younger players on the team and establishes himself as a leader, a quality that will called upon more than ever in the 2013 season. With third year corner Cortez Allen stepping into a starting role, Taylor will be called upon not only to shut down opponents’ premier receivers, but also to help Allen along in his acclimation process as a full time starter on defense. Taylor said prior to last season that Allen has the potential to be better than he is, and if he can help Allen actualize that potential, the Steelers secondary could be that much better in 2013.
At 33 years old heading into his 11th season, Taylor is one of the few remaining Bill Cowher carryovers who has seen not only the highs, with two Super Bowl rings, but also the lows of a losing season. And it is his reliability and experience that are reasons for confidence moving forward into 2013.
Now if he can only improve those hands…