Fashionably late for spring practices, cornerback Ike Taylor quickly covered the kind of ground Tuesday that made up for his absence from the South Side last week.
For example, he responded with a verbal pick-six when he tried to explain why veteran safety Troy Polamalu remained among the missing from the Steelers’ first four practices
“Troy around this time is probably somewhere up in the mountains with the monks praying,” Taylor offered. “So you have to let Troy be Troy. When he comes back, he’s going to be Jesus on the field.”
Ike Taylor talks about career, Steelers roster changes
The PG's Ed Bouchette talks about the Steelers' spring practice and speculates that Ike Taylor may be headed into his final season as the team's starting cornerback. (Video by Andrew Rush; 6/3/2014)
A young Steelers defense could not only use Polamalu at the top of his game this season, but Taylor, too. Classmates from the 2003 draft, they are the only remaining players on defense with two Super Bowl rings. They are projected to form half the starting secondary again in 2014 and join linebacker Lawrence Timmons as the only three starters left from the 2012 defense.
That defense and secondary slipped markedly in 2013, tumbling from No.1 in the NFL to No. 13 in yards allowed and also earned the dubious award as the defense that allowed the most plays of 50 yards or more (11).
Taylor acknowledged he did not distinguish himself in his 11th season with the Steelers. He called it a “so-so year.”
“But you play long enough you’re going to have a so-so year or two. But I didn’t like that, I understood that, and you have to be honest, I have to get better.
Can a cornerback improve from age 33 to 34? It is a position that requires speed and quickness, and those things usually do not get better with age. Yet the Steelers must believe Taylor — their best cornerback over a period of time since Rod Woodson — has at least one more year in him because they did little to fortify the position since last season.
What they did was sign 5-foot-9 Brice McCain after he was cut by Houston, where he played the past five seasons, and draft Shaquille Richardson in the fifth round. Had Cleveland not drafted cornerback Justin Gilbert and he had been available at No. 15, it might have been a different story.
“You just never know with Pittsburgh,” said Taylor, who correctly identified Chad Scott in 1997 as the last cornerback drafted first by the Steelers. “We can talk about who they should have picked. Man, Pittsburgh has been doing this for years, and they always draft either somebody under the radar or you’ll be like, man, holy-moly.
“They have the formula. They go for the third or fourth round with the corners and been to three Super Bowl appearances and won two.”
Taylor proved he knows his Steelers history and admitted he has to prove something else on the field again — that he can play at a top-notch level. “I feel like that every year, regardless what kind of year I had.”
Taylor always has been among the Steelers’ fastest players and, while he was working out in Orlando with trainer Tom Shaw, teammate William Gay kept letting him know about the new players on a re-upholstered defense.
“Super-dooper fast. Gay has been texting me all last week — ‘I’m telling you, man, it’s like a track meet on defense; from the defensive linemen all the way back to the secondary, those boys are running.’ ”
Can the old man keep up with them?
“No question,” Taylor replied.
He sees the speed but does not recognize many of them.
“I’ve been here since ’03, and there’s a whole lot of new faces. That’s a good and bad thing. It’s a good thing for me, I’m still here — shout out to everybody who left, shout out, shout out, shout out, shout out.
“Football is football. You have to understand that football is a player’s business and you never know when your time comes.”
Taylor agreed to take a cut in his 2014 salary from $7 million to $2.75 million. It is the final year of his contract; might it also be his final year?
“Man, I don’t know. Wherever the ball drops. All I know is I’m going to enjoy myself, try to help this team as much as possible. I’m going to be the best teammate, I’m going to be the best everything for this city and let the chips [fall].”
Besides Taylor, rookie halfback/wide receiver Dri Archer went through his first OTA practice with the veterans after missing the first week because he was required to attend the NFL Players Association Rookie Premier. … Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was absent to attend to family matters. … Outside linebacker Jason Worilds missed his third practice with what appears to be a calf strain. He has been running.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.