Ravens' Taylor chasing different ending in '01

He missed Super run with injury, but is set to play catch-up

April 29, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The expectations for receiver Travis Taylor might as well be written on the wall.

Inside the Ravens' war room, his name sits atop the team's draft board, just above first-round pick Todd Heap.

It's a message, not a misprint.

Taylor, the 10th overall pick in the 2000 draft, had his rookie season abruptly end with a broken collarbone in Week 9. Now, the Ravens want to reap the benefits from their year-long investment.

"I'm ready for the challenge," said Taylor after the second day of the Ravens' minicamp. "If I get every ball thrown at me, I'm up for that."

Taylor, 22, realistically could have been in last weekend's draft. The former University of Florida standout came out as a junior in 2000 and would have rivaled David Terrell and Koren Robinson as the top receivers in this year's class if he had stayed for his final season.

Instead, Taylor was relegated to an understudy role with the Ravens after fracturing his collarbone on a dropped pass. Sporting a sling, he attended nearly every practice and meeting.

"He spent his senior year with us, staying around to get a taste of the whole experience," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "It's put him in a position where he's awfully hungry. We made the best of a bad situation."

The eventual outcome was as agonizing as the injury.

With Taylor's prognosis at four to six weeks, the Ravens could not risk holding a roster spot that long and were forced to put him on injured reserve on Nov. 8. But the longer-than-expected postseason for the Ravens played a cruel joke on Taylor.

Indicating that he was at full strength by the first-round playoff game against the Denver Broncos, Taylor was only a spectator for the Ravens' Super Bowl run.

"I had to deal with it the best way I could," Taylor said. "It was more of a learning experience. Coach [Brian] Billick made a decision that was best for the team, and I respect that decision 100 percent.

"There was no anger. Of course, I wanted to play. But at the same time, I'm happy for the team. I enjoyed every experience that the team enjoyed, even though I couldn't be on the field."

Wasting little time, Taylor seemed to be in fast forward during the off-season. Two months after laser eye surgery, he was back to training on his own and then showed up a week earlier than most NFL veterans for Cris Carter's workout camp.

During minicamp, he has had to fight a building excitement, which has led to a few drops.

"I've got more to show," said Taylor before getting fitted for his Super Bowl ring. "A lot more to show."

Making up for lost time has become an annual routine for Taylor. Last year, he was a nine-day holdout in training camp, but worked himself into the starting lineup within two weeks.

In the regular season, Taylor showed flashes and ranked as the team's third-leading receiver before the injury. He caught 28 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns while making five drops.

It appears Taylor's shortened season wasn't lost on his teammates.

"He's a competitor," said backup quarterback Chris Redman, who has worked out with Taylor in the off-season. "I threw the first ball to him in the preseason last year and his eyes lit up. I can just tell he likes making the big plays. He likes being in that spotlight. I think he's one of those guys whose potential is unlimited."

Taylor gave a refresher course on that talent over the past two days, leveling out some drops with a couple of soaring grabs during group drills. This minicamp was the first time the coaching staff has seen Taylor on the practice field in nearly six months.

"You forget that the guy is very, very gifted," Billick said. "With his mind-set, you can tell he's a year older. He's graduated now."

For Taylor, it's time to show he's learned from a year of painful lessons.

"I am now at a point where I'm going to take advantage of every chance you get," Taylor said. "Because, just like that, it could be gone."

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