Linebacker adds leadership to Spring wishlist
Many of the linebackers who helped Steven Taylor blossom into a freshman starter and mature as a sophomore won’t be on the field with him this year. So for his junior season, it’s necessary for Taylor to take a bigger role.
He’s adding leadership onto his 2015 agenda, right next to building on 76 tackles and four sacks from 2014.
“I’m willing to step up to the plate and be held accountable,” said Taylor, the Cougars’ leading returning tackler.
Last season, seniors Derrick Mathews and Efrem Oliphant anchored the linebackers during spring practice. Just 10 practices into spring ball, it’s upperclassmen Taylor and Elandon Roberts leading the charge at linebacker. However, to become the player on the field and leader he wants to be, the 6-foot-1 redshirt junior still has to improve his technique and gain weight, said head coach Tom Herman.
“He’s had a good nine practices… The potential is certainty there, but he’s still got some improving to do,” Herman said.
If history is a barometer, Taylor will be able to make the improvements Herman is expecting. After Mathews tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Memphis, Taylor was thrust into a greater role on the defense. Without Mathews, Taylor averaged seven tackles per game down the stretch, including 13 stops during Homecoming against Tulane, and earned seven of his nine tackles for loss in that period.
Game-changing plays like Taylor’s forced fumble and recovery in the end zone against Temple when it was driving to tie the game are expected from linebackers at UH. Multi-year starters have anchored the defense on the field while serving as leaders off the field. During the Cougars’ historic 13-1 season it was Marcus McGraw holding the position, before Phillip Stewart took the mantle and passed it to Mathews and Oliphant.
Now, Taylor and Roberts have their chance.
“(Mathews) told me that I need to step up and become a leader of this defense. And I have to do whatever it takes to be great and lead my defense to a great season,” Taylor said.
However, he’ll have to improve in new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s system, which Taylor said will take on the more aggressive style that Orlando lead at Utah state the last two years. Orlando’s defenses accrued 83 sacks, which fits with Taylor’s ability, because his best skill is getting to the quarterback, he said.
Taylor, the self declared best UH defensive player on Madden, said even with a new defensive system and more expectations, he’s expecting to be the best version of himself.
“They should see a lot of excitement from me because I’m going to try to lead my defense to perfection,” he said. “And they hold me accountable so I’m going to try and be the best leader that I can be.”