Monday, August 09, 2004

Talking with Ike

In my spare time I also write for and yesterday I was lucky enough to interview Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor. He's one of my favorite Steelers and he proved to be a really nice guy. Here's the interview from PFD:

Ike Taylor is going into his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The cornerback was taken in the fourth round in 2003 after playing only two seasons of college football – and one of those was as a running back. Taylor is listed at 6’1” 190 lbs. and runs a 4.25 – forty. He was drafted as a project but he raised some eyebrows with a strong rookie campaign – in fact some people felt he was more consistent than first-round draft pick, safety Troy Polamalu. Either way Taylor is looking to break into the starting lineup in 2004 and I got a chance to talk with him about his experiences as a professional, how the Steelers are shaping up and what he hopes to accomplish this season.

Your first year playing college football was as a running back as a junior. Your senior season you moved to cornerback. Did the coaches ask you to make the move or did you initiate it?

I wanted to move to cornerback because I liked hitting people a lot more than I liked getting hit. Also, it had been mentioned that it could help me make it to the next level.

Some people accused former defensive coordinator Tim Lewis of not being aggressive enough in terms of pressuring the ball. What has new defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau done differently?

Coach LeBeau is the founder of this defense – he knows the ins and outs, ups and downs. Both Lewis and LeBeau are former players and I just tried to take in as much as possible from both of them. They know about the cornerback position and LeBeau, who holds a couple of records, is like the grandfather of the position and I just try to learn as much as I can from him (LeBeau holds the Lions’ record for most interceptions in a career (62)).

In terms of being more aggressive (comparing Lewis and LeBeau), I don’t worry about what other people on the field are doing because my job is primarily to lock up the receiver in man-to-man coverage – so it’s hard for me to say who’s more aggressive. In fact, I think I only blitzed one time last season.

How different is it going into your second year when compared to your experiences as a rookie at your first training camp?

It’s like night and day. My rookie season it was all about knowing what to do and where to be. Coming from college, where we primarily were in man-to-man and coming to Pittsburgh – it’s like going to graduate school all the things you have to learn.

This season I’m still learning but I’m much more comfortable with the defense. I can now react to plays on the field instead of worrying about where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do – I can just react because I’m a lot more comfortable with the defensive schemes.

What was the toughest transition to the pro game? When did you feel comfortable with the things coach Lewis and coach Cowher were trying to do?

The mental aspect – knowing your responsibilities, knowing the offense’s tendencies and also earning the coach’s confidence. The physical skills are what got you to this level so that’s not a concern, but knowing what you’re supposed to be doing and earning the coach’s confidence is important.

I started to get more comfortable towards the end of last season and I just want to carry that over into this season.

Who took you under their wing as a rookie? Did you try to pattern your game after anyone as you learned the ropes?

I didn’t pattern my game after anyone because I wanted to be me. My rookie season all three guys (Deshea Townsend, Chad Scott and DeWayne Washington) were a big help. Once they realize you’re willing to work hard and want to learn they really try to help you out.

It looks like 3/4th of the defensive backfield will be new guys and you’re still in the running to earn a starting job. We got a glimpse of what Deshea Townsend could do last season, but how are Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope coming along? What about the rookie Ricardo Colclough, how does he look in his first training camp?

Obviously it’s a younger group that brings athleticism and speed and maybe most importantly we’re all hungry. We all want to make plays. Troy looks real good. Just wait until the season starts and you’ll see what type of player he can be. Troy and Chris (Hope) are really smart and they hit hard and they should both have big seasons.

To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to see how Ricardo’s doing because I’m concentrating on what I have to do during practice and don’t get a chance to watch other people.

There are many people around Pittsburgh -- fans and media -- who think you could earn the starting nod and perhaps supplant the veteran Chad Scott. Even if you aren't named the starter for the first game of the season, what will be your role -- both defensively and on special teams?

I’ll be playing in the nickel and dime defenses and I’ll be returning kick-offs. Right now it’s me and El (Antwaan Randle El) back there.

(I asked Ike if Ricardo Colclough was returning kicks at all and he mentioned that he’s gotten some looks but right now he and Randle El are back there).

Deshea Townsend has said that he wants to know every defensive player’s responsibility because he thinks it will help his game. Do you feel the same way?

It’s important to know where your help is on the field, so yes I think it’s important to know what the defense as a whole is doing. You have to know when you can take a chance and when you have to be conservative.

What makes Hines Ward so good?

Hines can run the same route three different ways. He’s tough – he keeps you on your toes. The thing is, as a cornerback you have to be patient and Hines is really good at keeping people off balance. And by patient I mean you have to stay in your back-pedal and then just trust your ability to react to the play. Hines is good at getting corners out of their back-pedal and that’s when he makes plays.

Most fans only get to see players on game day. How much of your time preparing for a game is on the field and how much is studying tape?

We do a lot of mental reps on the field – taking things from the film room to the field. I spent a lot of time last season learning how to break down game tape. But it’s also important to take what you’ve learned and to be able to apply it on the field. Every defense has weaknesses and it’s important to be able to disguise these weaknesses and that’s all part of the preparation.

When the season starts, can you give me an idea of what a typical week is like as you prepare for Sunday afternoon?

After a Sunday game we usually have Monday off. On Tuesday the whole team watches the special teams tape; we also lift weights and try to get the soreness out from the Sunday game.

On Wednesday we break down into offense and defense and watch some more tape.

Thursday and Friday the coaches install the game-plan for the upcoming game. The game-planning takes place both on and off the field. The on-field practice is where you get your mental reps for Sunday’s game.

Saturday is a walk through of what we want to do on game day based on the game-planning from Thursday’s and Friday’s practices.

How good are Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress? And has Hines ever laid one of his patented blocks on you?

It’s always good to have two physical wide receivers – that’s hard to come by. We don’t hit in practice so I’ve never had to worry about Hines blocking me. The good thing about Hines is that his attitude rubs off on other receivers. Plax is also very physical and he’s not afraid to put a block on somebody.

Ike, thanks a lot for your time and good luck this season.
This was my first "real interview" with anyone of note and it couldn't have been with a nicer guy. Of course I'm sure he's already had his fill of talking to dopey people about football, but I don't have a bad word to say about him. I'm looking for big things out of Ike in 2004 and I'm guessing he'll deliver.