It’s amazing, how a few minutes can change your life.
“What was your signing bonus?” I asked him. “I assume something like $75,000?”
“It was $15,000,” he said.
But Taylor jumped at it.
“It wasn’t about the money,” he said. “I’m not a materialistic guy. I just wanted an opportunity. I’m thankful they took a chance on me.”
Taylor is a 23-year-old defensive lineman from Appalachian State. He started out as a long shot to make the roster, but he keeps fighting and impressing the Lions’ coaching staff.
And now, he’s got a legit shot of making it.
At 295 pounds, Taylor is ‘not huge’ but swift
In late July, Lions coach Dan Campbell praised Taylor and revealed his nickname.
“Yeah ‘Sawed Off,’ that’s (Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) AG’s name for him. He — this kid is — man, he works, and he’s a grinder,” Campbell told the media. “Man, he can run the hoop, he plays with leverage. He’s just one of those guys that, just, we could be sitting here at the end of camp and he just won’t go away, and I mean that in a great way, man. He just won’t go away because he just keeps getting better and better and better.
“And so, I know this, he’s been one of those guys that I’d be willing to bet that (Lions defensive line coach Todd) Wash would tell you since spring, he’s had some of the best improvement, most improvement of any of those guys. He really has, he’s come on and he plays the nose or the shade — the nose, the 2 right now, but he can play the 3 a little bit. So yeah, we like him. We talk about him quite a bit.”
Early in camp, Campbell was even more impressed.
On Aug.8, Campbell told the media: “Every day he makes a play or two. Just every day he does something to where he flashes. He gets under guys, he plays with really good leverage, he’s strong, he’s stout, he’s got a quick first step and so, he’s a nuisance. He’s a nuisance for those guys on offense. Now, there were some things in the scrimmage where he got moved a little bit in some of these double teams which is where he’s going to have to — that’s going to be an area of where he’s going to really try to anchor in there, and he’s got to be perfect on those things because he’s not a huge guy. But I’ll tell you… somebody that maximizes everything he’s got, it’s him.”
A few days later, the Lions gave Taylor some reps with the first team, just to see how he’d respond.
“We gave Meech some of those looks in the scrimmage the other day, kind of with the ones and stuff,” Campbell said Aug.10. “And so yeah, I think that’s — we’re identifying these guys that we need to see against some better talent and see how they perform.”
In many ways, the fact the Lions signed Taylor shows the creativity of general manager Brad Holmes.
Taylor played on the edge in college. In 65 games, he racked up 136 tackles, 26.5 sacks, 45.5 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three blocked kicks, 10 passes defended and one interception.
The Lions looked at Taylor and saw something else. They envisioned a small, quick nose guard.
He weighs 295 pounds but makes up for his size with speed.
“It’s definitely a learning experience for me, especially coming out of college,” Taylor said. “Everybody operates at a different pace. So for me, I’m getting my feet wet and understanding my role on the team right now. I’m taking a backseat to a couple of guys, but I’m also learning (at) that same time.”
Taylor has a heart-breaking back story.
His mother, Yolanda Whitehead, died of congestive heart failure on April 12, 2020, right in the middle of COVID-19. She was 37.
Two months later, while still grieving his mother, he became a father of twin boys, Ace and Aaron.
“My mother is the main reason I got into football and why I fell in love with the game,” Taylor said. “She is still my why — her and my kids.”
Now, the “why” has changed.
Why does he have a shot to make this team? The practice squad seems a lock. But he may make the 53-man roster because he has unique talent.
Two plays, back-to-back, against the Indianapolis Colts, showed what he can do.
It was late in the second quarter. Taylor lined up inside, off the right guard. At the snap, the Colts line shifted away from him and Taylor rode the outside of the tackle, curving around his shoulder, chased the play, came barreling down the line of scrimmage and whacked a running back, creating a three-player sandwich behind the line of scrimmage.
It showed his agility, quickness and tenacity; he didn’t give up on the play and made a contribution.
That’s exactly what the coaching staff is looking for.
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The next play was a pass play.
At the snap, Taylor worked along the line of scrimmage. The Lions had a three-man rush, and Taylor faced three blockers by himself. There was no way he was going to get to the quarterback.
But he diagnosed the play immediately. Before the ball was dumped to wide receiver Mike Strachan, Taylor was already running toward him. Taylor was there in a blink and helped clean up the tackle. Again, he showed tremendous agility and football IQ.
“It’s just natural instincts, man,” Taylor said when talking about his general play. “Obviously, just reading what the offense is giving to me. See ball, go get ball.”
And it’s working.
Taylor, a nuisance — the best kind.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.