I Like Ike—and He Likes the Steelers

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AP photo/Mel Evans

Ike Taylor recently joined Bob Labriola and Missi Matthews of to give his take on the upcoming Steelers team. He had lots of interesting things to say, and did so in his usual inimitable fashion. But before they talked to Ike they talked about him.

Labriola noted that Ike had lost some weight and was still clearly in great shape. This was no surprise to Labriola, who compared Ike’s workout schedule and general work ethic to Antonio Brown. High praise, indeed.

Furthermore, Labriola noted that Ike went 10 or 11 years without ever missing a practice. Mike Prisuta still regales whoever will listen with his tale about the time Taylor went through the morning practice and then drove into Pittsburgh to have his thumb operated on. You don’t accumulate a streak of 135 consecutive games without toughing out a lot of stuff.

He now works for NFL Network. Since I don’t have cable I can’t watch him there, but he is a frequent guest on Dave Dameshek’s Football Program, which you can watch online. He’s just as funny and interesting as you would expect. When he was still in Pittsburgh he used to do a segment from time to time on the Starkey and Mueller show (93.7 The Fan) in which he would dispense relationship advice. It was mostly pretty good, too. It’s no surprise at all he was a natural for television work. Dameshek has given Taylor the opportunity to continue the Agony Aunt persona with his “Dear Ikey” segments. It seems nothing fazes him.

This is, of course, one of the hallmarks of a good cornerback, and in his day Taylor was a very good cornerback. He had the [in]famous Hands of Stone, and consequently didn’t accumulate the sorts of “splash play” stats it takes to get sent to the Pro Bowl. But although nobody talked about Taylor Island, in his prime not much got past him. The following quote comes from an October 2015 Andy Benoit article about A.J. Green :

In his first three NFL seasons, Green averaged 5.5 catches and 81.8 yards a game. But in three of his six contests against the Steelers, he was held to under 42 yards, and twice was held to just one catch. I once asked Green’s position coach, James Urban, what the issue was against Pittsburgh.

“Ike Taylor,” Urban said. Taylor’s long, sinewy arms, and crafty physicality made him the ideal defender for the wiry, 6-4 Green—especially given Taylor’s mastery of the nuanced help-coverage principles in Pittsburgh’s matchup zone scheme.

In a Steelers Depot tribute to Taylor after his retirement, author Matthew Marczi notes:

Taylor had that intangible quality that he would call “swag” that is necessary to perform at the cornerback position at an elite level. Essentially, it is the belief that on every play, you are better than the receiver that you’re covering, no matter what just happened on the previous snap. The memory of a goldfish.

Taylor is still swaggin’, so let’s see what he had to say about the fledgling 2016 team during mini-camp:

This is an exciting team. You can tell the way guys are hustling…I really do think this team will be special this year…

I was talking to Coach Joey Porter a couple of weeks ago, and he was like “I ain’t seen this before.” I said “What ja mean, Peezy?” And he was like “Man, remember how we competed with everything, from on the field to off the field? These young guys are doing the same thing.”

When he told me that, I was like “I gotta come check it out,” and he ain’t lyin’. When you’ve got a good group of young guys who don’t mind working, hustlin’, and wanting to make each other better, that’s a good recipe. Along with Ben being a veteran guy, Maurkice being a veteran guy, AB being a veteran guy, Will Gay being a veteran guy, you’ve got a good group AND you’ve got an all-star coaching staff.

Ike then spoke about William Gay, about what he brings as a “second coach” on the field, and how much he can help the young guys.

When Missi Matthews asked him about the defense being a perceived weakness of the team, Taylor announced

They addressed it. You’ve got a potent offense—you can still make the offense better, which they did. Got Ladarius Green from San Diego—that’s a huge upgrade. DeAngelo Williams is, I think, one of the key factors. When Le’Veon got hurt, he came in, had 900-some yards. 7, man. Arguably you’ve got the best quarterback, receiver, running back.

On defense, you’ve got time to grow cause you know the offense is gonna score points. But at the same time you gotta grow fast. And from last year to this year, just what I see, I see the defense growing fast.

Matthews then asked him what he thought about what he’d seen of Artie Burns and Sean Davis:

So far, man, you just see that athletic ability…I didn’t know they was that tall. Artie’s real tall—good size. When you’ve got big guys who can run and jump, it helps out…I gonna tell them, put my two cents in, what it is to put that Steeler helmet on.

There’s perhaps no one better qualified to speak about a player like Artie Burns, as this excerpt from Taylor’s Wikipedia article attests:

Despite his inexperience and lack of consistent play in college, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Taylor in the fourth round (125th overall) in the 2003 NFL Draft. The selection was made based primarily on Taylor’s rare combination of size and speed — leading up to the draft, he was timed allegedly as fast as 4.18 seconds in the 40-yard dash. However, most NFL coaches and general managers still failed to see his potential.

Fortunately, the Steelers didn’t.

Ike promised to come to Latrobe. I look forward to hearing his thoughts, as always!

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