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'Negative' focus, positive result?

Posted Jul 8, 2009

Taylor

Hilee Taylor was off and running at OTAs, but he knows he'll need to do more than just use his speed if he is to succeed as a pro. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)


CHARLOTTE -- For every player who enters the NFL, there comes a rude awakening -- that moment of clarity where one understands that what helped them flourish at lower levels won't help much in the pro game.

For defensive end Hilee Taylor, it wasn't a single moment. Rather, it was the collective result of his play throughout his rookie season, when the North Carolina product finished with one sack, a fumble recovery and five tackles -- but learned that the old speed moves that helped him flourish in Chapel Hill wouldn't work in Charlotte.

"Exactly," said Taylor. "I came from college and I relied on my speed a lot. I used to beat guys off the ball with my talent. But you can't win on talent alone in this league."

That first became apparent when Taylor lined up opposite left tackle Jordan Gross in practice -- a daunting initiation, given Gross' Pro Bowl résumé.

"When you go against guys like Jordan Gross who've been in the league for a while and have seen every move thrown at them, you can't just expect to go against him and beat him with one move," Taylor said. "Practicing against him and Frank (Omiyale, last season) helped me out a lot."

So has the arrival of defensive line coach Brian Baker, one of the Panthers' new defensive assistant coaches. Listening to Baker and watching footage of his game-time action last fall helped Taylor realize what he had yet to become -- a complete defensive end.

"You've got to be a guy that focuses on your negatives," Taylor said.

"(Baker helps) you get to focus on the negative things -- which for me is being a one-move guy. I'm trying to pattern myself to be a guy that always keeps the offensive line guessing. When you keep the offensive line guessing, you'll have a good day."

In practice, it's Taylor and his fellow defensive linemen that are kept guessing by Baker's myriad of practice drills.

"Speaking for myself, I like change," Taylor said. "I don't like the same stuff every day. With Coach Baker, we've got drills thrown at us every day since mini-camp. For me personally, I like it, because you're working different things.

"We don't do drills just to do drill work. We're always working to do something. When you work on that individually and it carries over to team play, it becomes automatic and a natural movement."

But that can only take Taylor so far. He knows he'll need to add some bulk to his 250-pound frame -- "I can always add a few pounds," he admits -- to actually put some of the new moves he's learned into proper practice.

Yet smaller, quick defensive ends have bloomed in defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' scheme. A little more bulk might help, but too much might not be necessary if Taylor can diversify his moves against opposing tackles.

"That's another plus of his defense," Taylor said. ""If you've got speed and you can handle your own as far as power and keeping the offensive line guessing, it really doesn't matter how big you are, because if you can get power with speed, you'll have a good day."

And that would be an ideal result for Taylor -- a net positive from his focus on the negatives of his game.