MOBILE, Ala. - Phil Taylor shed more than just weight when he left Penn State.
The Baylor defensive tackle left behind his Maryland buddies and the trouble they often seemed to get in together.
Unfettered from both, Taylor blossomed in Waco, Texas, over the last two-plus years and has become a legitimate draft prospect. His combination of size (6-foot-4, 337 pounds) and quickness off the ball impressed NFL scouts during Senior Bowl practices this week.
The Eagles, always in the market for defensive line help, were one of those teams. Whether he fits into their plans come draft day in late April is anyone's guess. But the league-wide interest shows just how far Taylor has come since August 2008, when Penn State coach Joe Paterno kicked him off the team.
"I just moved on with it," Taylor said, "and made the best out of a second chance."
Taylor, of Clifton, Md., was part of Penn State's decorated 2006 recruiting class. Many of those freshmen came from the fertile ground of Maryland and had forged relationships in that close-knit football community.
While that may have seemed like a good reason to attend Penn State, the decision backfired on Taylor and several of his classmates.
"When you get a whole lot of buddies that have been playing high school all together for four years and then come up to Penn State, you're going to get in trouble," Phil Taylor Sr. said. "So they're running all together and they're acting crazy."
In October 2007, about a dozen football players were involved in a brawl at the campus student center. Taylor was among several Lions who were arrested. He pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct misdemeanor.
Taylor hardly played the rest of his sophomore season and was put on probation by Paterno the next spring. Unable to use the team's workout facilities, Taylor said he started to pack on extra pounds.
The weight gain was the least of his problems, however. That summer, Taylor and fellow defensive tackle Chris Baker were involved in a minor pool party fracas. The incident occurred right around the time that ESPN's Outside the Lines chronicled the Penn State football program's troubles with the law.
Just days after the program was televised, Taylor and Baker were booted off the team. Baker enrolled at Division I-A Hampton, but Taylor opted for Baylor, where former Penn State defensive backs coach Brian Norwood was the defensive coordinator.
Taylor had to sit out a year.
"I worked on the scout team and did morning workouts with the freshman team," he said. "It was humbling. But you just can't come in as a transfer and just think you've got it made. You have to earn it."
Taylor tipped the scales at 385 pounds when he arrived in Waco. When he was permitted to play the next year he was down to 365, but he failed to deliver on some lofty expectations. By his senior season, though, the slimmer Taylor started to raise some pro eyebrows.
He recorded 45 tackles, seven of which were for losses, and was named second team all-Big Twelve.
"I think it was the weight that was holding him back," his father said.
There might have been something else.
"I think for Phil, getting away from everybody changed everything," Phil Sr. said. "He went down to Baylor, a Christian school, and had no incidents for three years. He was at Penn State for - what, two years? - and had two incidents."
Taylor weighed in as the heaviest player at the Senior Bowl, but scouts noticed his solid build. Despite his size, he displayed quickness, but he wore down toward the end of practices.
"He's an inconsistent player like a lot of defensive linemen coming out of college football when they're 300-plus pounds," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "They don't play hard every snap. . . . He flashes. He's a big, strong kid that flashes."
Many mock drafts have Taylor being picked in about the second round. Another unanswered question is what position he'll play in the NFL. Some envision him as a nose guard in a 3-4 defense. Others think he's quick enough to play one of the tackle positions in a 4-3.
"I like playing on top of the center," Taylor said. "It's closest to the ball."