By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 4, 2014) – The role model for the move is as good as it gets in Rutgers football annals: Khaseem Greene.
In moving from an undersized, weight-challenged free safety to the weak side linebacker spot, a spring switch that required him bulking up, T.J. Taylor has a clear path to follow.
It’s the same one Greene took on the way to two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors, moving from safety early in his career to weak side linebacker.
Easier said than done, of course.
“It’s a playmaking position and I feel like I can make plays there and I think the coaches feel I can,” said Taylor. “It’s the combination of guarding slot receivers and coming into the box. You have the ability to do both. I feel like it fits what I do the best.”
Taylor, a redshirt freshman from Kendall Park, N.J., made his first major strides toward becoming a contributor at the position – Steve Longa is the starter there – by being named the Scarlet Knights’ Most Improved Defensive Player this spring.
“You always wonder if it’s the right thing when you change positions, but you also know the coaches here know what they’re doing,” said Taylor. “I knew I was going to be a little shaky after I first made the switch and that it would be tough. But I gradually began to make the adjustment and winning that award in the spring it was like `okay, now you’ve progressed. Now you have to keep going even more.’
“The fact that I changed positions, to win that award showed that I can play linebacker here and that I can have the success I want to here at linebacker. So it was really a confidence booster.”
Part two in the transition has been a bit slower in the making. The 6-3 Taylor, who starred at nearby South Brunswick High School, arrived at Rutgers at 187 pounds. He’s now at 209 – and knows he needs to add even more weight without compromising any quickness.
“It starts with steps,” he said. “Twenty pounds my first year is a great step. Next year I hope to add 10 more pounds and then the year after that five more. It will come year by year and I should gain weight as I get older. I feel I can still move with that weight so I’m confident with what I’m doing.”
The final phase in the switch is proving he can handle the position. Sitting out last year, Taylor said, proved to be a huge benefit for him mentally and physically. Playing behind Longa gives him a chance to learn even more from a good one at the position.
But eventually it’s up to Taylor.
“I feel like I’ve definitely picked up where I left off in the spring,” he said. “The knowledge of the playbook has helped. When you know the playbook you can do good things on the field. I feel like I took that from the spring and I brought it to training camp and now I’m going to add on to it.”
Serving as the backup to Longa, who is only a year older, hasn’t discouraged him either. Longa earned freshman all-America honors at middle linebacker as a redshirt freshman last season.
“Not at all. Competition is everywhere. And you never know what’s going to happen,” Taylor said. “So you prepare and make sure you’re ready and try to take advantage of every opportunity you have. That’s the way I approach it.”