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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
WACO, Texas -- On a hot, sticky March afternoon in Central Texas, many players might be wondering about the drudgeries of another blistering spring practice.
Even after enduring the excruciating work in another one-on-one drill and a few skips and hops around tackling dummies to build his footwork, massive Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor still is enjoying being back in the trenches. A year on the scout team convinced him how much he missed everything associated with playing on Saturdays.
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|A mammoth defensive tackle like Phil Taylor is just what Baylor's defense needed.|
"It feels really good to get back out there and play again," Taylor said. "Getting the cobwebs out after waiting so long -- it's just good to get back again."
Taylor's football future was tenuous after he was kicked off the Penn State team several weeks before the start of the 2008 season for his role in an on-campus brawl at the school's student union. Taylor pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges, but got the boot from no-nonsense Penn State coach Joe Paterno after the Nittany Lions' program endured a rash of off-field problems.
And after pondering his future for a few days, the 6-foot-4, 345-pound Taylor ended up at Baylor where he has received a clean slate for his final two years of his college career.
Taylor is reticent to discuss what happened at Penn State. He was kicked off the team a few days after a report on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on legal problems surrounding Paterno's program.
"I don't really want to talk about it too much," Taylor said. " I feel that I wasn't treated fairly because there were a lot of others in the same situation for similar things there."
He is already struck by the difference in the leadership styles of Baylor coach Art Briles and Paterno.
"I've been around a lot of teams, but here, it's more loose," Taylor said. "The coach lets us have fun. We still work very hard and do the things that we are supposed to do. But it's not quite as regimented as it was there -- do this, don't do that.
The feeling around the program is different, too, Taylor said.
"Here, they treat us more like adults," he said.
Briles has a quick rapport with Taylor, who refers to his super-sized defensive tackle as "Cousin Phil" for a reason, he said.
"If I've got a cousin, I'd like him to be big and strong like Phil," Briles said, chuckling.
Taylor had opportunities to play at Virginia Tech, Tennessee and Maryland after he left school. But he decided that Baylor -- 1,247 miles away from his home in Clinton, Md. -- was his best opportunity.
In a sense, the Bears represented an ideal landing place, despite the distance. He was reunited with Bears defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, who coached defensive backs at Penn State when he arrived there.
Norwood had been a friend of the Taylor family for many years after playing on a team in youth YMCA football that was coached by Taylor's uncle. And Norwood's son, Jordan, was a member of the Penn State football team with Taylor.
The switch to Baylor has brought out a different attitude in Taylor that has been noticeable from his arrival.
"Phil was always a hard-working, strong, very impressive athletic defensive tackle," Norwood said. "And this spring he's working to get better and play at a high tempo consistently in everything we're doing."
His footwork shows a freakish athleticism for somebody who is as big as he is.
"I still look at him in the huddle and I'm amazed how big he is," Baylor safety Jordan Lake said. "I remember at a practice last year watching him move from sideline-to-sideline. It's so cool to see a guy who was 360 pounds move like he can."
Norwood saw Taylor become a strong player late in his sophomore season at Penn State. And he's hopeful that he can return to that form with the Bears.
"The sky is the limit for him, but Phil is still chopping wood and getting ready to play," Norwood said. "His potential is off the charts. But at the same time, he's doing the little things we've asked him to do and that's made me excited."
The Bears need a run-stuffing defender in the worst way. In 2008, their defense ranked 85th in total defense, 87th in scoring defense, 84th in sacks and 109th in tackles for losses.
"Phil is a rare blend of size and quick-twitch muscles," Briles said. "I'll be disappointed if he's not first-team All-Big 12 because he physically possesses that type of ability. That doesn't mean he'll do it, but physically, he has that type of ability."
If he approaches those lofty platitudes, Taylor could be mentioned in the same breath as other Big 12 defensive linemen like Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh.
"What he brings us is a legitimate big-time defensive player who is a threat on the defensive side of the ball," Briles said. "He'll allow other guys to be more productive because he'll require more attention. If you've got men up front you have a chance to have a great football team. Especially at defensive tackle. They can make everybody else."
Taylor is rounding into shape and showing something every day at practice. His weight is down from the 380 pounds he weighed when he arrived at Baylor last August.
But he's most excited about his second chance at restarting his college career.
"When I came down here, it was like a new beginning for me," Taylor said. "I've got my head on straight and there are no more problems hovering around me. I'm ready to play."