Adjusting on the fly Taylor's specialty

No fear of change shows vs. Jaguars

September 13, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

His appearance is as deceptive as his moves on the field.

Ravens rookie receiver Travis Taylor appears even younger than his 21 years, and even younger when flashing his braces.

But he's tough. Tough from deciding to move away from his parents at 16 and live in a high school football hotbed. Tough from becoming a husband and a father at the age of 19.

That's why Taylor has gone from a first-round pick to NFL starter in a matter of months with few growing pains. He has lived up to his reputation of being a polished route runner and elusive after the catch, leading the Ravens as well as all rookies in the league with 130 yards receiving.

"Once Travis got married, he grew up overnight," his father, Cornelius, said. "Since then, he took everything more seriously."

The Ravens have tested the boundaries of his maturity.

Taylor sped up the depth chart after ending his contract holdout and reporting to training camp on Aug. 2. In a matter of two weeks, he was thrust into the starting lineup, with his biggest challenge to come.

On Sunday against Jacksonville, the Ravens lost their most productive receiver, Qadry Ismail, to a knee injury. Ravens coach Brian Billick immediately approached Taylor on the sideline, laying a hand on his shoulder and asking him to move from being the starting flanker to split end.

It didn't matter that Taylor had never played that position. It didn't matter that he had only four quarters of pro experience.

What did matter is that he didn't freeze in a pivotal game for the franchise, catching four passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns. He became the first Ravens rookie to ever score twice in a game.

"It did catch me off guard," said Taylor, the 10th overall pick in the draft. "I was like: OK, I have to sit down, relax and concentrate on what I had to do. I had confidence in myself that if they tell me a route to run, I know I can run that route."

Said Billick: "There is a calmness about him for a rookie more so than I've seen before that is surprising. He is confident, but never cocky in any way, shape or form. He's never yet finished a statement with me that didn't end with, `Yes, sir' or `No, sir,' which is a little unique in pro ball."

Taylor is less polite on the field. Scoring the Ravens' first touchdown inside the red zone this season, he broke two attempted tackles by Jaguars on a quick hitch for a 14-yard touchdown.

And in the drive that Billick called the game's turning point - the first series of the second half - he accounted for 63 of the possession's 68 yards.

He first caught a 40-yard pass down the left sideline, creating separation from cornerback Aaron Beasley with a veteran move of subtlety, extending his right arm. He capped the drive by gaining a step on Kiwaukee Thomas with a double move before beating him to the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown reception.

"Quite honestly, we were a little nervous," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "We were asking a lot of him to change positions midstream at the beginning of the game. But by the same token, the plays he made were things we expect from him."

Taylor has remained fixed on his main route.

After his sophomore year in high school, he decided to improve his chances of landing a Division I scholarship. He left his parents in rural Kingsland, Ga., a town more known for its naval base than football recruits, and moved 30 miles south to Jacksonville with his uncle and aunt.

He eventually went to the University of Florida, where he had a wife, Rashidah, and a daughter, Tionna, before his sophomore season was finished. After 72 catches and two Most Valuable Player awards in bowl games, Taylor left the Gators after his junior year and has now settled into his starting role with the Ravens.

For Taylor, growing up fast has never been a problem.

"This has always been his dream," said Cornelius Taylor, a scale clerk at a local paper company. "When I asked him what he was going to do when he grew up, he always said football. He said he was going to get a scholarship, play football and go into the NFL. And that's what he did."

NOTES: The Ravens' game against the Jaguars was the highest-rated program in the Baltimore market last week, beating out shows that included "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" and the Emmy Awards. ... The team released rookie running back Jason Brookins from its practice squad yesterday. The Ravens worked out three players and are looking to sign a defensive lineman before today's practice. ... Quarterback Tony Banks, who threw for 262 yards and a career-high five touchdowns Sunday, was named the Miller Lite NFL Player of the Week.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Miami Dolphins

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

When: Sunday, 8:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2 1/2

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