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Taylor key to scheme


End becomes a wild card on defense


By Craig Barnes

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Posted September 6 2006


DAVIE ? Jason Taylor grew up in Pittsburgh watching the Steelers play a 3-4 defense, perfected by Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau, and featuring the trademark zone blitz.


Taylor never envisioned that his athletic ability would allow coach Nick Saban to use him in a way that should improve the effectiveness of the Dolphins' defense.


The Dolphins' 3-4 begins its second season on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.


"I remember watching Greg Lloyd play for the Steelers [from 1988-97]," Taylor said. "I had no idea then I would be in the league, much less in a 3-4. I had a dream, but that was it.''


Taylor has seen Kevin Greene (Carolina), Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel (New England) and Joey Porter (Pittsburgh) in roles similar to his. Perhaps the closest match to what Taylor does is what Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick did with Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants in the 1980s and '90s.


"We have a lot of variations and [i move] around the scheme more," Jason Taylor said. "Our defense is like a mosaic, a lot of little pieces that come together and can make a beautiful thing."


Using Taylor as a wild card, the Dolphins, who don't have as many linebackers that are rushing the quarterback as the Steelers, advanced the zone blitz to another level of complexity.


"Part of the reason we considered doing it this way was because of Jason," Saban said. "He has certainly played better and more effectively than I even anticipated. It's an advantage in that people have to be aware of where he is, and it helps the effectiveness of other players."


Taylor, referred to as an open end on the depth chart, is the linchpin in Saban's hybrid 3-4 and is identified only as "99" in some alignments. In 1973, linebacker Bob Matheson played as a defensive end in the team's 53 Defense.


"In one package, we identify the Mike [middle], Will [weakside] and Sam [strongside] linebackers," weakside linebacker Channing Crowder said. "Another spot is 99."


Taylor, a defensive end in a 4-3 for his first eight NFL seasons, hadn't played linebacker since college.


"It was all foreign last year," said Taylor, who had 12 sacks to make his fourth Pro Bowl. "My mobility was also limited because of a foot injury, and it prevented the use of some packages. I'm more comfortable now. I can play on instinct instead of thinking."


By mixing the 4-3 and 3-4 as he did in Cleveland (1991-94), Saban causes opponents to prepare more on offense, and finding Taylor can add to the confusion.


"You have to identify where he is and be prepared to adjust if he moves,'' quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. "If you read it wrong, you pay."


To improve the chances of a sack or a bad throw, the Dolphins want a man-to-man situation for Taylor or another defender and design blitzes using him with other linebackers and defensive backs.


"The idea is to get the offense to do what we want it to do," defensive end David Bowens said, "and moving JT around helps."


Taylor becomes more of a wild card in the nickel and dime packages.


"In one dime package, he walks across the scheme," Crowder said. "You might get lucky and slide the blocking the right way. If you're wrong, somebody gets laid out."


The Dolphins can give the illusion of a 4-3 when they intend to run a 3-4 and do it with the same basic personnel.


"We merely change positions," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "JT stands up, and I play a different technique. Two totally different defenses crammed into one."


As the Dolphins' new defensive coordinator, the position that he held with the Steelers (1992-94), Capers has simplified and improved a scheme that produced 49 sacks in 2005 to tie the team's season record.


"He speaks about the 3-4 with authority," linebacker Zach Thomas said. "He knows the role of every player on every call and has made it easier to understand."


With his increased mobility and the tweaks and refinements to the scheme, Taylor believes his impact will be greater.


"People thought we had a lot of looks, blitzes and coverage last year," Taylor said. "Well, there will be some surprises this year."


Craig Barnes can be reached at cbarnes@sun-sentinel.com.

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