With Taylor at safety, Redskins confident they've got it covered

At No. 5, team fills need

`he can cover the field back there,' Gibbs says

Pro Football

April 25, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - In the event the Washington Redskins' brain trust was conflicted over whether to draft Kellen Winslow II or Sean Taylor, running back Clinton Portis offered his unsolicited opinion.

"I walked off the field with him the other day, and he gave me one of these: `Sean Taylor,' " Redskins coach Joe Gibbs recalled with a laugh. "Every time I wanted to talk about something, [it was] `Sean Taylor.' "

Portis got his wish. Washington selected Taylor, a safety, over his Miami Hurricanes teammate Winslow, a tight end, with the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft yesterday.

At 6 feet 2, 231 pounds, Taylor registered 77 tackles (57 solo), intercepted a school-record 10 passes, and returned three for touchdowns last season. A unanimous All-America first-team pick, Taylor's 14 career interceptions rank fourth on the university's all-time list, and he also returned eight punts for 154 yards and a touchdown.

That - and a pressing need for a safety - was enough to satisfy the Redskins.

"As we boiled it down for us, it came to the fact that I feel like Sean really fits well with us," Gibbs said. "I think his athletic ability - the fact that he can cover the field back there - really gives you a lot of freedom up front."

Taylor, who visited Redskins Park several weeks ago to participate in a workout and talk to coaches, said he was looking forward to flying from Florida.

"I can't wait to get started," he said. "It's unbelievable."

Washington almost didn't get a chance to choose Taylor. He told the local media during a conference call yesterday that the Cleveland Browns had called him to notify him of the team's intent to draft him if it could pull off a trade with the New York Giants at No. 4.

But the trade fell through, and Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant coach in charge of the defense, couldn't have been happier.

"He's a ball-hawking free safety," Williams said of Taylor. "Where we think he's special is his ability to go get the ball when it's in the air if he's playing the middle of the field or if he's playing half of the field or one-quarter of the field."

Although draft pundits had predicted the Redskins would pick either Taylor or Winslow, many had assumed that the team would take Winslow because of his superior athletic ability as a pass-catching tight end and because of his father's relationship with Gibbs, who spent the 1979-80 seasons with Kellen Winslow Sr. as an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers.

After the Browns traded up to the No. 6 spot to pick Winslow, he reportedly told a radio show that a Washington official had promised the team would take him with the No. 5 choice.

Told of Winslow's comments, Gibbs said, "There's no way in the world that happened. I don't know if he misstated himself, but there's no way we would say that."

Winslow would have filled the H-back position in the Redskins' offense, and his speed and size suggested he would've been another weapon along with Portis, quarterback Mark Brunell and wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner.

Gibbs, who said he is "kind of freaky" about tight ends, said the decision was difficult.

"Every last detail was minutely studied, and we thought in the end ... [Taylor] would be the guy that could help our football team the most," Gibbs said. "You're picking people. You never know what the outcome is going to be, but we felt like it was the best choice for us to make to help our football team."

Gibbs said a contract had yet to be produced, but last year's No. 5 overall pick - Dallas cornerback Terence Newman - signed a seven-year, $20.1 million contract last August.

Taylor is expected to enter the 2004 season as the team's starting free safety. Matt Bowen, who started all 16 games at that position last year, could be moved to strong safety, and Ifeanyi Ohalete would be a reserve.

Taylor is an intimidating tackler who has the power to blitz off the edges and the speed to cover a wide receiver.

"I love when I get an interception and get the chance to put my hands on the ball and take it back for a defensive score," Taylor said.

The only knock against Taylor is a tendency to be too aggressive and at times take unnecessary risks. Williams dismissed the criticism.

"As a coach, I'll never slow him down," he said, noting that many of the Miami Hurricanes defensive players are encouraged to be aggressive.

The Redskins did manage to grab a tight end. Washington traded its fifth-round pick (No. 139 overall) and a second-round choice in next year's draft to the New Orleans Saints for their third- (No. 81) and fifth-round (No. 151) selections this season.

The Redskins used the third-round pick to take Chris Cooley of Utah State. The 6-3, 265-pound player led the nation's tight ends in receptions (62) and receiving yards (732) in 2003.

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