Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor is back for a 12th training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and the veteran cover man finds himself the oldest member of the Steelers roster. The team’s long-time top cornerback, Taylor struggled in 2013 and had to take a significant pay cut in order to protect his roster spot and return to the only NFL home he’s ever had. He wasn’t happy about the salary hit, but he’s in an optimistic frame of mind early in camp, feels great physically, and believes the Steelers defense is ready to reassert itself in the AFC North.
SI.com’s Don Banks chatted with the always-quotable Steeler (who is entering the final year of his contract) Wednesday at St. Vincent, Pittsburgh's picturesque summer home in the Laurel Highlands:
SI.com: Whether you like it or not, at 34 you’re now one of the elder statesmen on this team. That can happen fast in the NFL, but what’s it like realizing so much roster turnover has occurred in Pittsburgh in recent years?
Taylor: “Yeah, I am one of the old guys. Nobody’s been here all that long except me, Troy [Polamalu], Ben [Roethlisberger] and Earl, aka Heath Miller. Every time I call him Earl, nobody knows who I’m talking about. Other than that, man, that’s about it. But it’s a good feeling. It’s a good atmosphere. It’s good being around young guys, man.
“And I always compare it to what coach LeBeau [soon-to-be 77-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau] is doing. Coach LeBeau has been in the league either playing or coaching for over 50 some years, and … now I see why he’s done it so long. It’s a good atmosphere being around young people. It keeps you really young. When you’re around a lot of people your age, you all tend to not do as much as you did when you’re young. So it’s like a refreshment. It’s like a dessert when you have young guys around.’’
SI.com: We’ve heard a lot about the aging Steelers defense in recent years, but is that really accurate any more with guys like Cameron Heyward, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt added to the mix?
Taylor: “It’s really only myself and Troy on defense. And if you want do the average out, I’m sure it’s going to average mid-20s on defense. This year they have to let go of that label, the aging defense thing. Maybe last year we had five or six guys over the age of 30. But this year there’s no reason why we should hear about the aging defense. If you want to say I’m old, I’ll take that, but as far as the defense-wise, no. Doesn’t apply any more.’’
SI.com: The Steelers have gone 8-8 and missed the playoffs the past two seasons. A third consecutive non-playoff season would not be received well, and it’s been since 1969-71 that Pittsburgh went three years in a row without a winning record. Does that add a world of pressure to 2014?
Taylor: “It’s not accepted and that’s as it should be. We’re not cool going 8-8. Especially going 8-8 twice. But we’ve had an organization that has been successful for so many years, and you’re going to have down years. Do you want it? No. Do you accept it? Hell no. But at the same time, it just comes with life, you know? We’ve been a few games out of the playoffs, but we messed last season up. We messed that one game up that kept us out of the playoffs.
“We can say, ‘Oh, if somebody would have made a field goal, oh, if somebody would have made a catch.’ We had 16 games of opportunities, to make a push and get in the playoffs. What I like about this organization is we don’t blame nobody but ourselves.’’
SI.com: What did going 6-2 in the season’s second half tell you about the potential for this team in 2014?
Taylor: “We’re almost there. We’re almost there. We woke up, but too late. Kept hitting the snooze button too many times and woke up too late.’’
SI.com: Does first-round pick Ryan Shazier look like an early impact rookie at inside linebacker?
Taylor: “Yeah, I think he can. But the only reason why he can is it’s [defensive end] Cam Heyward’s fourth year, it’s [nose tackle] Steve McLendon’s fourth year and it’s Cam Thomas’, the other Cam, fourth year. Them guys working together are going to be monsters, and it all starts up front on the defensive line. That’s why I think Shazier is going to be successful as a rookie.’’
SI.com: Players call taking a pay cut a “haircut,’’ but the pay cut you accepted in order to return to Pittsburgh was a full-scale buzz job (with his base salary being reduced from $7 million to $2.5 million). Does it still hurt?
Taylor: “Yeah. But I took it. I still signed that deal. I couldn’t see myself going anywhere else. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. As much as I was pissed off about it, I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else. But I think we’ve got to win the Super Bowl for me to shake it. We’ve got to win the Super Bowl for me to completely shake it.
“I talked to [ex-Steelers linebacker and current defensive assistant] Joey Porter before all this happened, and he said, ‘Hey, put your pride aside, man.’ Because I knew if I talked to Joey he was going to keep it 100 [percent honest] with me. He wasn’t going to sugarcoat it. He said, ‘If I would have it [free agency] to do all over again I would have stayed in Pittsburgh [rather than sign with Miami in 2007].’
“The money’s cool, but the atmosphere, the love you get, plus the Rooneys, the coaching staff, our locker room, man you don’t get that everywhere. The grass isn’t always greener. Hopefully I’ll be in position where I’ll never see the other side of the grass, but if I do, oh well. But I’m Pittsburgher. I’m a yinzer. I’m a Steeler.’’
Note: A “yinzer’’ is a local nickname for hard-core Pittsburgh residents.