`Competitor' Taylor rises to the challenge

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Linebacker gets job, eyes special teams role

Pro Football

September 18, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Surrounded by a host of other linebackers ranging from mid-level veterans to unheralded rookies, Shannon Taylor was in his comfort zone.

He embraced having so many vying for the one backup linebacker spot available at a recent Ravens tryout.

"I'm a competitor," said Taylor, 26. "I like to compete. I've been against the best competition for a while now, in NFL combines and all-star games. Competing brings out the best in me. When other guys around me are pretty good, that ups my level.

"I had a great workout. When I left, I felt really good about my situation. I played behind Jamie Sharper when I was in college [at Virginia], and he told me that I would fit in well in this scheme."

He won the competition and likely will see his first action as a Raven on special teams in Sunday's game at Cincinnati.

Taylor, a sixth-round draft pick in 2000 by the San Diego Chargers, spent five games last season on the practice squad before playing in the final 11.

The Chargers released Taylor (6 feet 3, 247 pounds) this preseason, and he signed with the Ravens last week after drawing interest from the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.

Taylor finished fourth on the Chargers with nine special teams tackles, the type of production the Ravens want.

"I just want to contribute well on special teams," said Taylor, who is listed behind Peter Boulware and Brad Jackson at strong-side linebacker on the depth chart. "I want to work hard, learn the system and maybe next year come in and compete for a linebacker spot. I don't think I'll be playing any linebacker this year."

Taylor was a second team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection as a senior at Virginia. Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio worked Taylor out before last year's draft and said he was impressed, leading to his tryout.

"He was a guy we had our eye on during that draft," Del Rio said. "He ended up getting taken by San Diego. He came in and worked out, and I saw a lot of the same things I saw on tape.

"He's a guy with a lot of upside, but he needs to work on the fundamentals of football. He needs to work on his eyes, his feet and the disciplines of playing hard every down."

Baxter back at practice

Defensive back Gary Baxter returned to practice yesterday.

The practice, though, was about as light as it could get. But it was a stride for Baxter, who injured his knee in the Aug. 18 preseason game against the Jets.

"Right now, we're just working our way back into it," Baxter said. "The main thing is to get blood flowing through my leg and get me moving laterally.

"It's still sore for me, but we're going to work some of the soreness out of it," Baxter said. "I haven't done defensive back drills in a long time, so I'm kind of stiff."

16-game support

Coach Brian Billick is in favor of playing a 16-game season and losing two wild-card teams per conference, a plan the league reportedly is leaning toward to make up this weekend's postponed games.

"Any time you get the full season in, that's a benefit," he said.

The margin of error, though, will be much slimmer.

In that setup, cornerback Chris McAlister thinks a team will need 12 wins to get a playoff spot.

Considering there are a number of Super Bowl-caliber teams in the AFC (Denver, Indianapolis, Miami, Oakland, the Ravens and Tennessee), McAlister is probably right. Two of those teams would not make it.

"I think it is going to get a lot more competitive," he said. "Later on in the season games are going to count a lot more than they would have if we would have had that wild-card game. Every game is a must-win situation now."

E. Williams almost ready

There is a chance Erik Williams will play Sunday.

Williams, who signed with the Ravens on Aug. 28, has been working himself into shape because he was not with a team during training camp.

"Erik Williams is certainly able to go this Sunday," Billick said. "Whether we'll make him a part of the [active roster], we'll see. But, yeah, I think Erik is to the point where he is capable."

Said Williams: "If there is a shot, there is a shot."

End zone

Starting cornerback Duane Starks practiced yesterday and pronounced himself "100 percent healthy and ready to go." Starks suffered a knee injury during the preseason that kept him out of the regular-season opener. ... Offensive tackle Leon Searcy (arm) was the only player Billick ruled out of Sunday's game.

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