Cornerback Ike Taylor had not missed a game for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2004 until a broken ankle forced him to miss the final four games of 2012. When he retakes the field on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers need Taylor to regain his old form -- actually, a much older form.
The team will not want to see the Taylor who took the field against the same Titans team in Week 6 of last year. The 2012 Taylor got beat multiple times by multiple receivers, including Kenny Britt who had only recently rejoined his team. Britt struggled to hang on to passes, but was still outplaying Taylor when the two were matched up across the line of scrimmage.
To be fair, Taylor's play wasn't all bad, just most of it.
Even the best parts of Taylor's night were negatives in themselves. Taylor did show the wherewithal to grab receivers when he knew he was getting beat, taking a penalty rather than give up a possible touchdown. Unfortunately, this became a trend for Taylor for most of the first-half of last season. He looked more like the old Ike in the latter part of the year before he found himself on the sideline in a boot.
Taylor is a notorious workout warrior, and no one was surprised when Taylor had worked his way out of the boot before the season's end, but he never made it back on the field; however, he is back to 100 percent now. The question is, is this 100 percent the same as his younger self's benchmark?
Enter the 2013 preseason, and Taylor has been forced to rely on the penalty tactic twice, although his infractions were quickly discarded as irrelevant exhibition warm up snaps; but they do continue a discouraging trend.
The Steelers secondary will have their hands full against a talented Titans receiving corps. They have size in Britt, and speed in former-Steeler Nate Washington. Toss in some gifted youngsters and a mobile quarterback in Jake Locker, and sub-par coverage will find itself exploited early and often.
Taylor has the strength to out-body Britt, although Britt got the best of him last time. If Britt maintains a similar advantage, would the Steelers consider moving Cortez Allen to Britt? If they did, then Taylor would be left to match steps with Washington. How many penalties will the Titans attempt to milk out of this matchup?
When Tennessee comes to Pittsburgh to open the regular season, Taylor will undoubtedly be in the best physical condition he can be at 33 years of age. Whether he will play like the 'old' Ike or an old Ike has yet to be seen, but the Steelers will be looking for the former.
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