Washington State’s coaches have been working hard to upgrade their secondary for 2013 and they did it again over the weekend. Paris Taylor’s signing for this upcoming season gives the Cougars extra options, and not a moment too soon.
The first option is redshirting Taylor, letting him learn the position behind Deone Bucannon and letting him compete for the starting job at free safety in 2014, likely with Deone’s younger brother David and a couple others. Or he could flip to the strong safety position. Taylor’s physicality and fly-around-the-field game is nearly identical to Bucannon’s and obviously would transfer well to the 3-4 defense that Mike Breske has installed. Bucannon’s ability to be a roamer and his football IQ keep him in position to make all the plays and looking at film it looks like Paris Taylor is the same type of player.
If he were to redshirt initially, Taylor could easily become a three-year starter, beginning 2014, while the Cougars minimize the effect of losing a four-year NFL caliber starter at the position. Meanwhile the ability for Taylor to strengthen his knee and focus on weights could be a super bonus to his long-term health, being that knee injuries have the tendency to return if played on too soon.
The middle option and the one I like the most is to look at starting him opposite Deone. That comparable style might also be the reason the Cougs can’t afford not to have him on the field alongside Bucannon making plays. Ivan McLennan arrived on campus and ate/lifted his way to an extra 25 lbs from January to the beginning of Spring ball. If Taylor could add 10-15 lbs before the season (putting him between 220 and 230), we might have a regular Kam Chancellor on our hands. Chancellor stands 6’3″, 232 lbs and is a physical presence in the back end of the Seattle Seahawks secondary.
The issue here is that Casey Locker and Taylor Taliulu are more than capable as strong safeties and have a year in the system. Locker fills practically as a 5th linebacker when he plays and Taliulu offers more athletic ability and speed on the back end in coverage. But neither player is close to as big as the new kid and he seems to bring with him both of those attributes in a single package. If Taylor can get back to his 4.5 speed that he had before his ACL injury, it’s almost a no-brainer to me. WSU would instantly put together one of the bigger safety tandems in the conference.
Yet another option is to have Paris Taylor be a third safety at times in pass coverage. His coverage abilities seem to be better at this point than the other safeties, which would allow him to be a nickel/dime package player. With the amount of spread offenses the Pac-12 employs, this could be an interesting lineup addition, especially considering his size allows the Cougs to not lose a whole lot in spread run defense. Or he could give Breske a new look that resembles more of a Quarters package with 3 deep safeties in obvious pass situations. WSU did a good job of sacking the quarterback last season, which could lead to optimal situations for a 3-safety set.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Taylor catches on and ultimately where Mike Breske goes with this one. We know the Cougs were looking for this type of safety and had one, before Montrel Meander flipped to Texas in the 11th hour. Meander was more in the mold of Lamont Thompson, while I see Taylor a little bit differently, obviously. If he can get 100% healthy by the beginning of the season, he would add major size to the Cougar secondary. If he doesn’t start he could also give the Cougars a fresh and somewhat experienced option to step into either position, should the defense end up on the field for long amounts of snaps.