AFC East: Clyde Simmons
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|Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor is ready to contribute again in Miami.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Jason Taylor was wary about the constant change and weary of prolonged rebuilding.
The Miami Dolphins defensive end hadn't been to the postseason since 2001 and hadn't won a playoff game since a year before that. The club was working with yet another new head coach, its sixth in 10 years, after a desolate 1-15 season.
Taylor's brother-in-law, Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, was given his sweet release.
A soap opera involving Taylor and Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells materialized. Parcells was said to be aggravated by Taylor's decision to participate on "Dancing With the Stars" rather than attend the offseason conditioning program.
The tension between a franchise player and an overshadowing figure intent on making the franchise his own led to the inevitable: Parcells traded Taylor to the Washington Redskins for a couple of draft picks.
The move didn't work out for Taylor.
"I was away for a year," Taylor said. "It felt about five years, to be honest. It was an interesting learning experience."
Now he's back with Miami, obviously willing to stand for change. Taylor, who turned 35 three weeks ago, signed a modest contract to return in a different role than he was accustomed to. He will make his homecoming when the Dolphins open their Land Shark Stadium schedule against the Indianapolis Colts on "Monday Night Football."
Taylor compiled Hall of Fame-caliber credentials as a right defensive end, his hand on the ground and rushing the quarterback.
In head coach Tony Sparano's 3-4 defense, and with reigning AFC sack king Joey Porter handling the weak side, Taylor crouches into a two-point stance and has coverage responsibilities as the strongside outside linebacker.
"I think I'm still more comfortable in the three- or four-point," said Taylor, the NFL's active sacks leader with 121.5. "I've done it for so long. I feel more explosive. I feel a little better coming out of it.
"I need to learn how to create that same explosion and quickness out of the two-point. It’s a work in progress. At times I catch myself wanting to inch down and get back into a three-point, but I'm working on it."
Taylor's season with the Redskins certainly contributed to his willingness to adapt.
He gained a newfound appreciation for the Dolphins during his brief separation. He couldn't avoid playing for a rookie head coach, was miscast in the Redskins' defense (17 solo tackles, 3.5 sacks), didn't make the playoffs while his old team won the AFC East title, saw snow and suffered a freak calf injury that could have led to amputation.
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|Jason Taylor had just 17 solo tackles and two sacks during his one season in Washington.|
Other than that, Taylor had a blast.
He already has half as many sacks as he did last year. In a season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons, he dropped Matt Ryan, the 64th quarterback on Taylor's career victims list. The sack also tied him with Clyde Simmons for 13th all-time.
Taylor, for the record, has sacked Colts quarterback Peyton Manning five times, tied for fourth on his list with Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington and behind Tom Brady (9.5), Drew Bledsoe (6.5) and Rob Johnson (six).
"Jason's always been a guy that plays with a something-to-prove attitude," former Dolphins linebacker and defensive end Kim Bokamper said. "Jason's last year, obviously, was disappointing. I think he'll be coming after people.
"He's out to prove he's not a part-time guy, that last year was an aberration. There's really good motivation for him to show people he's still Jason Taylor."
The belief is that Taylor was brought back to rush on obvious passing downs, with burly incumbent Matt Roth there to stop the run. But a groin injury kept Roth off the field throughout training camp and all four preseason games. He opened the season on the non-football injury list, rendering him unavailable for the first six weeks.
Not having Roth hurts Miami's run defense, but there's a benefit to not switching out personnel that would telegraph a defense's intentions.
"The thing I saw with Matt last year that I thought he did extremely well was just punish the tight end," said Bokamper, who is around the Dolphins on a regular basis as a sports anchor for Miami's CBS affiliate. "He completely took them out of the game and then collapsed the corner. He was such a strong run defender.
"Having said that, I've always been a big believer of when you have a guy that can do both, you don't have to change personnel. It's advantageous. It may sound like a little thing, but sometimes little things make a difference."
Bokamper's familiar with the type of change Taylor is making, though Bokamper did it in reverse. He started out as a strongside outside linebacker, making the Pro Bowl in his third season. He finished his nine-year career as a right defensive end.
Bokamper likened the transformation to a NASCAR driver making right-hand turns or a natural righty throwing left-handed. It's mentally tricky, but not unworkable.
Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson pointed out that the switch will match Taylor more often against right tackles, who generally are better run blockers compared to left tackles and whose main responsibility is blind-side pass protection.
The change also should be beneficial for career longevity.
"It's a lot less physically demanding to play that standup outside linebacker than it was to be a down defensive end," Bokamper said. "Going against a tight end, you're facing a guy who's usually not as strong as a blocker. For Jason, being toward the latter part of his career, it probably works out better for him."
The situation in Miami, despite the positional adjustment, already is working out better for Taylor than in Washington.
"One of the neat things for Jason right now with this position," Sparano said, "is it’s not something that he can get bored with. He was playing kind of the same position for a long time in this league. As close as a guy can come to perfecting that position, you’d have to say he did.
"With what we’re asking him to do at his stage in his career right now, I think that every day he comes to work he’s pretty curious. He's curious to find out what today brings, what new things we have in store, how this position correlates to some of these new things that we have.
"It’s kind of keeping him on the edge of his seat a little bit, and ... he's starting to get the entire package."
The 11-time Pro Bowler holds the official NFL sack record with 200 over his 19-year career. He set the Bills season sack record with 19 in 1990. He recorded double-digits in 12 of his 15 seasons with Buffalo.
Smith is the greatest non-QB No. 1 draft pick in NFL history.
And he's not afraid to declare himself the best DE that ever was. Here's the response to the first question at a pregame news conference.
"I've had a considerable amount of time to take a step back and actually think about it. Having studied the game over the last 19 years and from the outside watching in now over the last five years, the one thing that sticks out more and more like a sore thumb is what was accomplished in this 3-4 defensive scheme that I played in for so long. It's unprecedented.
These are facts that the best defensive end and pass rusher that played in this game played for the Buffalo Bills. The reason I'm saying that is the fact that by design, by the scheme a 3-4 defensive end gets double-teamed far more often than a 4-3 defensive end, and that's a fact. These are not hearsays.
The defensive ends in a 3-4 system gets double-teamed by the center-the guard, the guard-the tackle, the tackle-the tight end, the tackle-the running back. So there's so many possible combinations, and there's nowhere to hide. A 4-3 defensive end always lines up on the edge. He only gets a double team typically from slide protection or they may chip with a back."
Smith went on to describe how Reggie White thrived in Buddy Ryan's system, which was designed to eliminate double teams, and with Sean Jones and Clyde Simmons. Smith also noted how Deacon Jones played on the most dominant D-line.
"You can't double-team these two individuals consistently because there are so many other forces on that defensive line that they had to recognize and pay attention to. But in a 3-4 defensive scheme, you cannot hide.
This gives me an opportunity to explain to individuals, students of the game to educate people what has actually taken place, playing in this 3-4 defensive system. I look back upon it now and I realize why I had 11 surgeries because I was taking a beating. I certainly was. But, all in all, having played in front of these fans in this stadium, it's just an incredible feeling to come back and be put on the Wall of Fame with some of my other teammates."