Ike Taylor spends a large portion of his offseason training and working out at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., trying to improve his speed, strength and technique.
Among the many NFL players who train there is Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, who, based on his speed, is probably faster than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Johnson and Taylor are friends---- "He's a cool dude," the Steelers seventh-year cornerback said -- but they never discuss the play that changed a Dec. 21 game in Nashville, Tenn., the touchdown that propelled the Titans to a 31-14 victory and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
"He doesn't get on me, but I know it's in the back of his head," Taylor said.
Taylor hasn't forgotten because he was the player -- really, the only player -- who had a chance to stop Johnson, not only from scoring on a 21-yard run but also from even crossing the line of scrimmage.
It occurred on a fourth-and-1 play in the third quarter, Steelers leading, 14-10, in a battle of the two best teams in the AFC. On the play before, quarterback Kerry Collins connected with wide receiver Justin McCareins for a 19-yard gain along the sideline to set up the defining moment.
Collins turned and looked to make a handoff to LenDale White on the right side, drawing most of the Steelers' defense in that direction. But he quickly pitched the ball, option-style, in the opposite direction to Johnson, who had only one player to beat -- Taylor.
The isolated one-on-one battle was no contest.
Johnson, who was clocked at 4.24 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, put a quick move on Taylor near the line of scrimmage and raced untouched up the middle of the field for a touchdown that gave the Titans a 17-14 lead.
"I remember the play like it was yesterday," Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "He's a home run hitter. He can take it to the house from anywhere on the field. That's his thing."
Johnson finished with 69 yards rushing on 16 carries in that game, which was the final time the Steelers would lose. But it was that play that made the difference, and Taylor hasn't forgotten the whiffed tackle.
"You always remember plays like that," he said. "But, you know, they get paid, too. Last year was last year."
Johnson does that to defenders, which is why the Steelers, who finished first in the AFC in rush defense in 2008, want to make sure that doesn't happen again when the teams meet tonight at Heinz Field. He led all AFC backs with 100 or more carries with a 4.9 yards rushing average and had eight runs of 20 yards or longer. He finished with 1,228 yards rushing, third among NFL rookies.
Johnson, though, shared the workload with White, who rushed for 773 yards on 220 carries to give the Titans the AFC's No. 1 rushing tandem.
"Usually with a guy like that, he's either fast, not quick; or quick, not fast," Taylor said. "He got both. He's quick and fast."
As Taylor can attest.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com .