New York Giants safety Cooper Taylor is a very different man this year.
Just watch him on the field when he lines up at safety. His eyes narrow with focus, his mind starts processing what he sees, and as soon as the ball is snapped, he’s off and running, showing surprising sideline to sideline speed that was always rumored to be there, but which he wasn’t able to really show much in 2013, his rookie season.
No question, a year has made a big difference for the 24-year-old Taylor, who is starting his NFL career over following an injury-filled rookie campaign.
To avoid a repeat of the hamstring issues that ultimately landed him on injured reserve, Taylor made some significant changes to his offseason regimen.
“In college and I guess when I started out in the combine and in my first year, I didn’t really take enough or know enough about recovery,” Taylor said.
“In college you play maybe 14 games tops; here in the NFL you have the four preseason games and then 16 regular season games, so the season is a lot longer.
“So I realized, from watching some of the veterans, that it wasn’t so much about what you do in the weight room, which is important, it’s about flexibility, different types of cold tubs, (and) compression booths.”
So in addition to hitting the weight room to build up his strength and stamina, Taylor added in other regiments involving myofascial stretching and hyperbaric chambers to help him recover from the long, grueling grind that is part of summer training camp.
After missing a large chunk of training camp last year due to a nagging hamstring injury, Taylor says being able to go through the daily workouts has allowed him to reconcile what he’s learned from film study and in the classroom and apply it on the field.
“In training camp last year, I didn’t get all the technique and fundamental work because when you get to the regular season, it’s more about game-planning each week,” he said. “This training camp has been really great for me to get back to the roots and focus on the foundation of football.”
He’s also pushing himself because he knows that his roster spot is far from being secure, which is exactly how he hopes it stays.
“You have to show you add value to the team and can make plays, so it’s definitely something that’s always in the back of your mind and I don’t think it’s something that will ever change for me.
“If I play 12 years, in my 13th year, I’m going to feel the same way: I have to find a way to add value and make the team better.”
So how can Taylor make the team better this year? He said that he hasn’t been doing too much of playing the pseudo safety role that was made famous in this defense by former safety Deon Grant.
Instead, Taylor, who received snaps with the starters in yesterday’s practice, has focused on the safety position and on special teams, where he says things have started to slow down for him.
“It’s such a mental game at this level because there’s not as much practice time at this level,” he said.
“You definitely want to have the offseason to go through the meeting time, walk-throughs and practices and the second go-around with this playbook has been really good for me, and a lot of the young guys.”
While Taylor feels that he’s come a long way since this time last year, he also acknowledges that he’s nowhere near the player he believes he can be just yet.
“I feel like I’m a completely different player from last year,” he said. “Things are starting to slow down for me, but I still have a long way to go. I have a lot of things to work on, but I think with more time I’m here and the more I can show what I am able to do, it will become easier for me.”