Beaufort's Taylor hard at work to improve NFL chances

South Carolina defensive end soaks up knowledge from Bruce Smith

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comApril 25, 2013 

Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, left, works with former Beaufort High School standout and South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor during a training session in Virginia.

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY ANTHONY STRINGFIELD

Bruce Smith enjoys talking about his art, delivering a taste of what Devin Taylor experienced for a few weeks earlier this year.

Smith is 10 years removed from his NFL playing career, during which he sacked the quarterback more than any player in history. The defensive end, who played for the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, now teaches his craft to a select, committed few.

For a brief time this year, Taylor was his student.

Taylor, the former Beaufort High School standout and South Carolina defensive end, worked with Smith in Virginia through a connection at First String Sports Training, where Taylor was preparing for the NFL Combine. Smith worked with Taylor on the proper use of his hands, how to read offensive linemen and worked to correct improper tendencies he saw on Taylor's film.

The pair hope the end result is a quicker adaptation to the NFL game, so that Taylor is ready to impress his future team.

The NFL Draft begins Thursday night with the first round and ends Saturday with Rounds 4-7. Taylor is projected to go anywhere from the third to the fifth round.

Wherever Taylor goes, Smith wants him to be ready to keep learning.

"If you want to be the best or considered among the elite, you have to be a student of the game," Smith said. "You have to pay attention to formations, you have to pay attention to the off tackle's set -- when he puts his hand in the dirt, whether he's heavy on his hands or light on his hands, whether he's sitting on his heels or his heels are raised for a more explosive stance of run blocking. There are so many tangibles and intangibles that has to exist, and you have only a few seconds to digest all this information when you walk up to the line of scrimmage."

Since the Gamecocks' Outback Bowl victory over Michigan on Jan. 1, Taylor has worked to show off his combination of size and athleticism while also answering questions about his perceived weaknesses.

He trained with coach Anthony Stringfield at First String Sports, practicing drills he would test on at the NFL Combine. Stringfield also worked to add another dimension to Taylor's personality on the field.

"I wanted to (tick) him off," Stringfield said. "And one of the things I told him, from a training perspective on the field, is you have to be hungry like a dog with his ears up."

After the directive, Taylor owned January's East-West Shrine game, forcing two fumbles, chasing down ball carriers in the open field and blowing up Kansas lineman Tanner Hawkinson on a bull rush for a sack.

The performance didn't surprise Taylor's former position coach.

Longtime South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing, now at Florida, awards pink erasers each time one of his players wipes out a teammate's mistake with an outstanding play. He said Taylor probably received more erasers than any other player during Lawing's time with the Gamecocks.

Teams like Taylor's size, athleticism and potential to add weight. But a chorus led by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has questioned Taylor's production.

"Maybe in the NFL, you coach him up there," Kiper told reporters on a conference call earlier this year. "Maybe you find something there that's not showing there at South Carolina in game situations."

Lawing dismissed the criticism.

Taylor finished with 46, 42 and 40 tackles his final three seasons. His sacks dropped from 7.5 as a redshirt sophomore to 3 his final season.

"The media is in love with sacks," Lawing said. "His sacks went down. His production stayed the same."

Lawing said the criticism hurt Taylor during his final seasons. Taylor's mother, Sylvia Cuyler, once asked Taylor why he wasn't rushing the quarterback more. He told her his job much of the time was to contain.

Stringfield said Taylor's bull rush on Hawkinson showed the work with Smith helped. Taylor and Smith watched clips of the Bills great from his rookie year through his early seasons.

Smith said Taylor is ahead of the typical rookie learning curve.

"He was able to make a great deal of improvement in a short period of time," Smith said. "You can get this a heck of a lot quicker when you learn from someone that actually stuck their hand in the dirt and played the game at an extremely high level versus someone who hasn't. I just think anytime that someone wants to be taught or needs to be schooled on how to do something, they need to be taught by someone who has done it before."

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