Phil Taylor decided that he was not going to waste his talent in the summer before his senior season at Baylor University.
At that point, his college football career was far from stellar. After two years at Penn State, he was suspended and then kicked off the team after his alleged role in a fight at the student union.
“I wasn’t going down the wrong road,” Taylor said in his post draft press conference. “I just made a mistake as a young guy there and I learned from it. You can only get better from learning from things you do in the past, so I learned from that and I just moved on and it made me better today.”
Last April, the Cleveland Browns drafted the defensive tackle with the 21st pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. The Orange and Brown Report caught up with the Baylor beat writer for the Waco Tribune, John Werner, to get his perspective on Taylor.
“There was a lot of hope in the 2009 season that he was going to have good year,” Werner said. “He didn’t live up to expectations.”
Taylor sat out 2008 per NCAA transfer rules before entering the 2009 season with high expectations. He was voted as the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2009.
“It was tough knowing that I can’t go in there,” said Taylor, of his 2008 season.
“It humbled me a lot and made me work even harder and it got me better.”
In 2009, Taylor finished with 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and a half sack with one interception, but he didn’t work hard enough. He was overweight, out of shape and that cost him a consistent performance. According to Taylor, he hovered around 380 pounds that first season at Baylor.
Taylor found motivation and perspective in the summer before his senior season. He took a mission trip to Kenya with fellow student-athletes in May of 2010. It was then Werner said Taylor realized what an opportunity he had and that he was wasting his talents.
“He saw how the people lived over there,” Werner said. “The kids over there were drawn to him. He was a giant to them and he was good with those kids.
“He came back with a better attitude.”
Less than a year later, Taylor (6-foot-3, 337 pounds) is penciled in as a starting defensive tackle for the Browns.
“He worked a lot harder before his senior year,” Werner said. “It really started before the trip after the disappointing junior year. He started working harder, watching his weight and that Kenya trip made him realize he has a great opportunity here and he wanted to set himself up for the next phase in his career.”
Taylor lost 50 pounds and he credited that weight loss to his strong senior season. Taylor finished last season with 62 tackles (38 solo) with seven tackles for a loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.
“He’s a good run stopper,” Werner said. “He really didn’t rush the passer a whole lot. The thing is he’s big so he took up a lot of space and opened up things for other guys. Their defense wasn’t very good but Phil was the bright spot.”
It was Taylor’s body-type that drew interest from NFL teams including the Browns, Werner said.
“Phil is a big, blocky guy with quick feet and he takes up a ton of space,” he said. “He moves well for a guy that big.”
Taylor was the second Baylor player taken in the first round at last month’s draft, as offensive lineman Danny Watkins was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles at 23rd overall. Two years ago, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith was taken second overall by the St. Louis Rams.
“Baylor has done a really good job recruiting and developing their linemen,” Werner said. “Last year, they also had a third-round pick (offensive lineman) J.D. Walton go to the Broncos.”
As for how Taylor will translate at the next level, Werner expects Taylor’s professional game to mirror his college years.
“I think he’ll be the same kind of player,” Werner said. “I don’t seem him as a big-time pass rusher, he’ll mostly be a run stopper and that might free up other guys to get a better pass rush.”
Off the field, it appears Taylor continues to possess the motivation and drive he developed a year after his trip to Kenya.
“I love to win and I hate to lose,” Taylor said. “I’m going to come in here ready to work and do what I have to do to play.”