It was, for lack of a better word, the “perfect” pass.
Earlier this week, during preseason workouts, Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor really stepped into one of his throws, launched a deep ball, a tightly spinning spiral, and watched it sail.
Golfers know the feeling. You’re on a long par-4 and you absolutely crush your tee shot and know instinctively “I got all of that one.”
Well, on this pass, Taylor knew he “hit it on the screws” the instant he let it go.
The ball sailed through the muggy August haze before dropping perfectly into the receiver’s hands 55 or so yards down field. Might have been 60.
Taylor gave a quick fist pump and then traded eye contact with his quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain, who responded with a confident nod.
It’s a pass Taylor expects to make often this season, his third at Tech, but his first as the undisputed full-time starter.
“The biggest difference between Tyrod today and last year is one word: confidence,” O’Cain said. “He knows he can make that pass. He also knows he can drop the ball over the linebacker and in front of a safety. He can make all those throws, but most of all; he knows he can be a leader. You can see the confidence in him in all areas.”
That confidence is evident in how he leads the team on the field, in sprinting drills, or in the eye-popping accuracy of his throws this preseason.
You can see it off the field, too, like the day this past summer when he called a players-only meeting.
“I was letting the guys know that we aren’t picked high in the rankings for any reason,” Taylor said. “We have a target on our back and we have to go out and prove it. I told them to keep that in their head as you work out all summer, that people are going to be taking a lot of shots at us this year and it’s going to be a dog fight for each game.”
The confidence and ownership is the biggest difference in the 2009 version of Taylor.
Keep in mind; he was just a month removed from his 18th birthday as a true freshman when he made his college debut in 2007 at eventual national champion LSU. And, remember, this wasn’t just any night at LSU. The crowd of 92,739 was the largest ever to see a game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
Yet there was that fresh-faced Taylor, still perhaps not sure where McBryde 100 was in relation to Tor-2100 on Tech’s campus, staring down the nostrils of Glenn Dorsey and LSU’s defensive line. Two years, and seemingly a lifetime later, Taylor is back as Tech’s quarterback, albeit a much different kid than the rookie who trotted onto the field in the Baton Rouge humidity 24 months ago.
He’s now started 15 games and played in two ACC championship games and two Orange Bowls.
“The first couple years, I didn’t really didn’t know the offense as well as I wanted to,” Taylor said. “Sometimes (in 2007), I dropped back and ran because I wasn’t going through progressions. Last year, I was better at that. This year, I want to prove to everybody that I can throw and I am not a runner.”
In 2008, Taylor rushed for 738 yards, which was third on the team. But he threw for just two touchdowns and had seven interceptions.
“For us to be where we want to be, our passing game has to improve dramatically,” O’Cain said.
With that in mind, Taylor spent this past spring and summer working religiously on his passing game, first by working on his mechanics by eliminating a hitch in his throw (“I watched tape at home with my dad and was able to see what I was doing wrong,” he said) and then by spending hours on the practice field throwing to Tech’s receivers.
He went to the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana last month to work with Eli, Peyton and other top quarterbacks. He solicited advice from ex-college stars like Ronald Curry (“Don’t follow anyone else’s footsteps. Go out and have fun. Be yourself.”) And Michael Vick (“It’s a big year for you. Go show people why you went to Virginia Tech.”).
He’s put on 17 pounds, which you can see clearly in his shoulders and upper back and from several weight room records that he shattered since the end of last season.
“This summer, he’s thrown every day. He’s done as much as he can to make a great preparation for this season,” O’Cain said. “He needs to be consistent. We don’t want him to feel like he has to win the games for us. If we get the ball to the right people at the right time, we can be pretty good.”
It’s a challenge Taylor has embraced.
“Got to throw the ball better,” he said in self-evaluation. “Have to understand the offense and understand the defense. Know what I want to do with the ball pre-snap. Read the defense. Know the tendency of the defense. And understand the game plan going into each game of where we’re going with the ball.”
At least this year, Taylor knows he’ll be the guy throwing the football each week. During the past two seasons, there has been uncertainty as to who would be Tech’s starter: Taylor or Sean Glennon, who graduated this past May.
Tech has won back-to-back ACC titles, but its quarterback situation was anything but stable in either year.
“No, it wasn’t the perfect situation,” was O’Cain’s understated response when asked to reflect on the past two years.
While he started 15 games over the past two years, on the field and in quarterback meetings, Taylor was always in Glennon’s shadow.
“Sean was an intimidating presence,” O’Cain said. “He was smart. He knew more than Tyrod. He knew our offense. As good as Tyrod was, he didn’t know as much as the other guy (Glennon).
“It was uncomfortable for me, so you know it was for them. The best quarterback was not Tyrod Taylor. But he was the best guy to be under center to help us win games. Now in 2007, from the Duke game through the Orange Bowl, Sean was the best guy to help us win. But in 2008, Tyrod was the best guy to help us win, and we felt that unanimously (as a coaching staff).”
“Sean and I are still good friends,” Taylor said. “Lots of people tried to make it out that we weren’t, but that was never the case since I’ve been here. He’s still a great friend. We were down at the Peyton Manning Passing Academy together in Louisiana.”
Because of that relationship and his respect for his teammate, Taylor couldn’t have called a team meeting last year. It wasn’t his role.
But now, it’s his time and he’s seizing the moment.
“I see a lot of focus. I see a lot of determination on this team,” he said. “I’ve been ready for this to be the year I can play.”
He’s got the tools and the confidence to get it done. And he’s has established himself as a leader for a top-10 team that has its eyes on another major bowl game.
“This is what I came to school for,” he said. “I’m ready to show people what I came here to do.”
That pass he threw on the practice field this past week was just one of many examples of the exciting progress this humble, likable young man has made in recent months.
And Taylor is hoping it’s just the start of a memorable 2009 season for his teammates and Tech fans everywhere.
10 questions with Tyrod Taylor
1. BR: What are reasonable expectations for this 2009 team.
TT: “To go out and win the ACC again. That’s what we’re working for. We had a big offseason. Very intense. That’s our first goal – to win the ACC again.”
2. BR: What was the Peyton Manning camp in Louisiana like for you?
TT: “It was a great experience. To sit down with Peyton and Eli and Mr. Archie and see how they think about the game and prepare for a game and watch film. It was a great experience.”
3. BR: You’re a lot bigger now, what are the numbers?
TT: “I’m up to 217 from 200 when I came in.”
4. BR: And your bench press numbers are up dramatically too, right?
TT: “I can press 350. I think I was at 285 when I first got here.”
5. BR: Okay, lightning round, Tyrod. What’s your favorite movie?
6. BR: Favorite song?
TT: “The Leak, by Li’l Wayne”
7. BR: Why do you wear No. 5?
TT: “I wore it in high school, and when Coach (Jim) Cavanaugh was recruiting me, I asked him if I could wear No. 5.”
8. BR: What do you think of Coach Beamer’s dancing?
TT: “Haha. I’m going to have to teach him a few things.”
9. BR: What’s the deal with your Facebook page?
TT: “ Somebody has a fake one out there.”
10. BR: Wait, the Tyrod Taylor Facebook page, with 5,000 friends is a fake?
TT: “Yeah. The one you see with me in a white uniform in the Furman game, it’s a fake. The guy or female who is running the fake one had my birthday wrong and I was getting texts from people wishing me happy birthday and I was trying to tell them, ‘Thanks, but it’s not my birthday.’”
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