“I’m healthy right now; I’m just trying not to get jinxed,” the junior defensive end said following the first of two practice sessions on Wednesday.
Taylor said he’s up to 245 pounds now without losing any of the speed that made him one of the state’s most highly-coveted prospects out of Scotland County.
“I worked hard in the weight room and I ate whole a lot more,” he said. “I had to eat a lot more breakfast, but mainly I’ve just been picking it up in the weight room. Coach [Jeff] Connors always told me if I got my weight up I could stay healthy, so I just made that my main objective for 2006.
“I actually think I got faster. A lot of people tell me they don’t think I’ve lost a step.”
Taylor, who can play either as a down lineman or a stand up linebacker, saw significant playing time as a true freshman. On the last play of the Tar Heels’ third game of the year, he caught and dropped fleet-footed Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball and forced a fumble. Taylor then scooped up the ball and ran 21 yards to the endzone as time expired, securing a 34-13 Carolina win – its first over the Yellow Jackets in seven years.
He set the school record that year for sacks by a freshman with 4.5 and led the team with three forced fumbles. But Taylor also missed four games with a stress fracture in his right femur, beginning a lengthy bout with leg problems.
He returned to play in 10 games as a sophomore primarily as a pass rush specialist, recording 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for losses, a forced fumble and one sack. But he sprained his foot late in the season against Maryland and missed the Duke game.
“The doctors told me it was going to take nine months to get back healthy,” Taylor said. “It’s been well over nine months and I feel stronger now than I ever have before.”
Taylor showed flashes of his rookie success during the 2006 Spring Game, in which he picked up a fumbled snap and ran 33 yards for a touchdown. He also had a sack in that game.
“He’s more powerful, he’s more experienced and he understands better how to play the game at this level,” John Bunting said. “Carrying that extra weight, the hard work he’s put in the program, the way he’s responded, the way he’s been coached in the weight room and on the field, he has a chance to have a breakout year – if he can stay healthy.”
In one of his first interviews before preseason camp began, Bunting stressed the importance on having him available this year, and Taylor said he and his teammates are also expecting vast improvement from themselves.
“It all starts up front,” Taylor said. “If we’re having a bad game, then the whole defense is going to have a bad game. We’re just trying to keep consistent in practice each day. Coach [Danny] Pearman and Coach [Ken] Browning are great coaches and teach us great technique. We’re just trying to follow their lead as well as the seniors.”