This NFL offseason wasn’t optimal for anyone. But if you wanted to create the most difficult scenario for Davion Taylor to contribute as a rookie, not allowing him on the field with teammates or coaches until late July would be the way to go.
Taylor is the speedy, athletic linebacker from Colorado the Eagles took in the third round of this year’s draft. He was a controversial pick, not because he lacks ability – he’s run a 4.39 40 at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds – but because he played almost no high school varsity football and only two years of major college football. His lack of background and instincts led to mediocre production at Colorado with 129 tackles in two seasons and no turnovers created.
- Eagles’ Lane Johnson tests positive for coronavirus; Nate Gerry, Jordan Mailata also on COVID-19 reserve list
- The Eagles’ top two rookies, Jalen Reagor and Jalen Hurts, working to make up for lost practice reps
- Eagles’ experience advantage over division could be amplified with abbreviated training camp | Early Birds
The Eagles believe in Taylor’s athletic potential and his drive to succeed. The linebackers are the weakest Eagles unit, whose most experienced member, three-year vet Nathan Gerry, was placed on the COVID-19 restricted list Wednesday. (Gerry might have tested positive, or he could have been exposed to someone who has.)
Taylor certainly has an opportunity. But it is far from clear he is in any position to seize it. He won’t experience his first NFL padded practice until Aug. 17, or 27 days before the season starts at Washington.
“It’s been pretty difficult for me, because I’m more of a hands-on guy, but I had to adapt to the situation,” Taylor said on a Wednesday Zoom call with reporters. “I had to spend extra time in my playbook, extra time watching film. … I think I’m going to be ready when the first game comes around. I’m gonna continue to work hard every day, treat every day like it’s a game situation in my mind, make sure I’m calling out the right assignments, doing the right things.”
Taylor said the virtual spring work with linebackers coach Ken Flajole was useful.
“I learned all the plays,” said Taylor, who lauded Flajole’s patience with the rookies. “We learned so much. It’s kind of different when you’re actually on the field. We’re just trying to take it day by day, little by little.”
Taylor said Gerry was a big help in the virtual meetings.
“He’s one of the best linebackers I’ve seen in terms of watching film,” Taylor said. “He shows up in the virtual meetings, asking questions like he’s still a rookie. That’s one thing I admire about him. … He comes into meetings like he’s still trying to learn the system.”
In high school in Magnolia, Miss., Taylor played junior varsity football, because those games were held in the afternoon. His mother decreed that he would keep their Seventh Day Adventist sabbath, which meant no football from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Varsity games were played on Friday nights. Taylor managed to play in 1½ of those his senior year, because they involved earlier start times. He practiced all season with the varsity.
As you might expect, this did not lead to college scholarship offers, but once Taylor left home to nearby Coahoma Community College, he was allowed to set his own schedule, and two years of playing in games there got him to Colorado.
Asked Wednesday about predraft criticisms of his lack of anticipation, Taylor said: “I think it was accurate in college, but now that I’m a pro, I can’t make excuses. … I can’t use it as an excuse, like, ‘I have a handicap,’ or ‘I’m very raw’. I use it as a blessing, also because I have a high ceiling. I still have so much more to learn, and I’m willing to learn. I want to learn.”
He said that given his lack of experience, he feels he has to do more off the field than an average rookie, learning every facet of the defense.
“I have to be able to just study as much as I can, even if I have to lose sleep sometimes, make sure I’m in that playbook, make sure the next day I won’t make the same mistake as yesterday.”
Taylor said he feels he needs the most work at inside linebacker, since he played outside at Colorado. The Eagles are trying to teach him all three spots; they envision him as the kind of hybrid player that is in vogue, the linebacker who can be a safety in some packages.
It seems likely that even if Taylor can’t make a huge impact on the defense this season, he will be expected to contribute significantly on special teams. He said he is up for that challenge.