From prac­tice squad to bud­ding star

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS & NFL - Jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Jef­fZre­biecSun

“The re­al­ity was, I prob­a­bly was go­ing to leave Bal­ti­more at some point or an­other,” Tay­lor said Wed­nes­day on a con­fer­ence call with re­porters. “To get a chance to come back as a starter was def­i­nitely some­thing I hoped for and I have an op­por­tu­nity to do so now. I’m ex­cited, but it’s not about me. This game is not about me at all. This game is about the Buf­falo Bills go­ing to Bal­ti­more and try­ing to get a win on the road.”

The Ravens’ matchup with the Bills on Sun­day at M&T Bank Sta­dium is loaded with sto­ry­lines be­yond the pomp and cir­cum­stance of a reg­u­lar-sea­son opener. For the Ravens, quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, wide re­ceiver Steve Smith Sr. and rush line­backer Ter­rell Suggs will play in their first reg­u­lar-sea­son games since sea­son-end­ing in­juries last year. Wide re­ceiver Bre­shad Per­ri­man, the Ravens’ 2015 first-round pick, is in line to make his NFL de­but af­ter a knee in­jury forced him to miss his en­tire rookie sea­son.

Head coach Rex Ryan, as­sis­tant de­fen­sive backs coach Ed Reed and Tay­lor are among the Bills who will be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a home­com­ing of sorts. Tay­lor, 27, hasn’t been back to Bal­ti­more since he left as a free agent af­ter the 2014 sea­son. He re­turns as a bona fide start­ing quar­ter­back, the re­cent re­cip­i­ent of a six-year, $92 mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion and as a 2015 Pro Bowl se­lec­tion.

“You guys saw it last year and we saw it for the last four years. He’s re­ally, re­ally good,” said Ravens cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith, who was in Tay­lor’s draft class in 2011. Smith was taken in the first round, and the Ravens took Tay­lor, out of Vir­ginia Tech, in the sixth. “He was stuck be­hind Joe, but we knew how good he was as a scout-team quar­ter­back. The fact that he went off and started his first year out shows you how good he was.”

Tay­lor played in 14 reg­u­larsea­son games in four years for the Ravens. He didn’t start any of the team’s 70 games dur­ing that span, as Flacco was in the midst of post­ing 122 con­sec­u­tive starts, the fifth-long­est streak in NFL his­tory. In his Ravens ca­reer, Tay­lor threw 35 passes, com­plet­ing 19 for 199 yards. He threw two in­ter­cep­tions and no touch­down pass- Ty­rod Tay­lor (2) played in 14 reg­u­lar-sea­son Ravens games, but Joe Flacco (5) started ev­ery time. Ravens coach John Har­baugh, cen­ter, said Wed­nes­day that he would have kept Tay­lor for­ever if he could have. Tay­lor, run­ning onto the field for last Thurs­day’s pre­sea­son game against the Lions, re­cently got a six-year, $92 mil­lion ex­ten­sion. es.

Tay­lor never dis­tin­guished him­self in mop-up duty and he put forth mostly un­even per­for­mances in the pre­sea­son. How­ever, Tay­lor’s team­mates raved about how he per­formed in prac­tice, and the strug­gles they had deal­ing with his ath­leti­cism and arm strength. Af­ter Buf­falo signed Tay­lor, Ryan said part of the rea­son was glow­ing rec­om­men­da­tions from ex-Ravens de­fen­sive stand­outs Reed and Ray Lewis.

“Ev­ery­body knows Ty­rod is a heck of a quar­ter­back and Bal­ti­more never wanted to lose him, that’s for sure,” Ryan said. “But Ty­rod went to a team with an op­por­tu­nity where he could be­come a start­ing quar­ter­back. The amaz­ing thing is he shows up and we had three quar­ter­backs. We had EJ Manuel, who was the in­cum­bent. We traded for Matt Cassel to ba­si­cally be the start­ing quar­ter­back. It was like, ‘Ty­rod, I prom­ise you I’ll give you a chance.’ And he bet on him­self and won the job.”

The Ravens made a com­pet­i­tive of­fer to re­tain Tay­lor dur­ing the 2015 free-agency pe­riod, but the one thing they couldn’t of­fer him was an op­por­tu­nity to com­pete for the start­ing job.

“There’s no bad terms be­tween me and Bal­ti­more,” Tay­lor said. “I’m thank­ful for the op­por­tu­nity that Ozzie New­some, Coach Har­baugh and [owner Steve Bis­ciotti] gave me as far as a guy com­ing out of col­lege, get­ting a chance to play there. I’m, def­i­nitely thank­ful for the op­por­tu­nity, but I was able to get an op­por­tu­nity here in Buf­falo for a chance to com­pete. I’m ex­cited to go back and play against those guys.”

Ravens coach John Har­baugh told Buf­falo-area re­porters on a con­fer­ence call Wed­nes­day that he would have kept Tay­lor for­ever.

“He has made him­self into an NFL quar­ter­back,” Har­baugh said of Tay­lor.

“His quar­ter­back rat­ing last year was very high. He did it with his legs, cer­tainly, but that is not to take away what from what he has done with his arm and his mind. He op­er­ates an of­fense ex­tremely well. He man­ages the game very well. He is an ac­cu­rate thrower. He makes good de­ci­sions. The added el­e­ment of the fact that is he is prob­a­bly one of the best ath­letes in the game just makes him a real weapon.”

The Ravens in­sist they weren’t sur­prised by Tay­lor’s suc­cess in his first year as a starter, but many others around the league were. In lead­ing the Bills to vic­to­ries in eight of his 14 starts, Tay­lor com­pleted 63.7 per­cent of his passes, threw for 3,035 yards, had 20 touch­down passes com­pared with just six in­ter­cep­tions, and rushed for 568 yards and four touch­downs. His 99.4 quar­ter­back rat­ing was the sec­ond-best in fran­chise his­tory.

If the lu­cra­tive con­tract ex­ten­sion is any in­di­ca­tion, Buf­falo clearly be­lieves Tay­lor is only go­ing to get bet­ter.

“I was just hop­ing a guy like that would get a shot,” Flacco said. “I didn’t have a doubt in the world that when he did he would make the most of it. I was just hop­ing that he would even­tu­ally do it. Buf­falo gave him that shot. He went in there pre­pared and won over ev­ery­body in that build­ing. He’s play­ing the way that I would ex­pect him to play.”

Flacco and Tay­lor be­came ex­tremely close dur­ing their time to­gether in Bal­ti­more.

Tay­lor’s laid-back per­son­al­ity made him a fa­vorite in the locker room and also a good sound­ing board for Flacco. The two leaned on each other to work through a stretch where they had three of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors in as many years.

Tay­lor reached out to Flacco im­me­di­ately upon hear­ing about the Ravens quar­ter­back’s left knee in­jury last sea­son. To his sur­prise, Flacco got right back to him.

Now, less than 10 months later, the two quar­ter­backs will be on op­po­site sides of the field, ful­fill­ing a sce­nario they joked about for four years.

DOUG KA­PUSTIN/FOR THE BAL­TI­MORE SUN 2013

DUANE BURLESON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pan­thers at Bron­cos | 8:30 p.m., chs. 11, 4 The Bron­cos de­fense is elite and is go­ing to keep them in most games. But in this matchup of quar­ter­backs Cam New­ton and Trevor Siemian, go with the ex­pe­ri­enced hand, even on the road. Pan­thers 24, Bron­cos 20

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