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Noah Taylor looking to regain form that made him a force at ‘backer in 2019

Noah Taylor
Noah Taylor. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Virginia linebacker Noah Taylor will be the first to admit that the Noah Taylor of 2020 wasn’t the best Noah Taylor.

“I knew my ability as a player, and I knew what I could have done last season. And I didn’t do that, obviously,” said Taylor, a 6’5”, 225-pound rising senior outside ‘backer, whose star had risen with his breakout 2019.

Taylor, as Virginia was playing its way toward the program’s first-ever ACC Coastal Division championship, became a matchup nightmare on the edge – with 26 QB pressures, including five sacks and five hits, and 48 tackles.

But it was what a guy who could put up those kinds of numbers in the pass rush and on run defense could also do in pass coverage that made him a nightmare.

In 2019, Taylor was in pass coverage on 156 snaps. Opposing QBs targeted him 22 times, but only completed 12 of those passes, and it was his fourth quarter interception that set up the game-winning points in UVA’s 39-30 win over Virginia Tech.

Having a 6’5” guy who can provide run support, pressure the QB and hold opposing quarterbacks to a 29.2 NFL passer rating when they throw it at him is a defensive coordinator’s dream.

The 2020 Taylor wasn’t as far off from the 2019 Taylor as he is making it sound.

Taylor had 16 QB pressures on 137 pass rush snaps – the 11.7 percent pressure rate comparing well to the 12.8 percent rate that he put up in 2019.

His 39 tackles work out to 3.9 per game – actually better than the 3.4 per game he’d averaged in 2019.

The pass defense numbers do stand out – opposing QBs targeted him 21 times on 156 coverage snaps, and completed 16, for an NFL passer rating of 115.2.

Maybe you can explain that last number away by the fact that Taylor was battling injuries most of the season, including a back injury that he’s still rehabbing.

“Basically the whole entire season, he was dealing with something, and that had an effect on him,” linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Kelly Poppinga said.

Poppinga wonders, though, if there might have been something else that kept Taylor from moving forward from where he’d been in 2019.

“The challenge that I’ve always had for Noah was just be the best version that he can be all the time,” Poppinga said. “I do believe there was a different mindset that he came in to the 2019 season that he did in ‘20 season. He was he was out to prove who he was in 2019. And you know, sometimes, human nature, man, you know, a little bit of success, you might relax a little bit, you know, I don’t know exactly.”

Poppinga said he thinks from what he has seen from Taylor in the offseason that he is “on the track right now of becoming the best version that he could possibly be.”

“Just the way that he’s attacked every single day from, not just workouts and practices, but also to just his film study and his hunger to learn the game. He’s, as of right now, he’s going through the process to be great,” Poppinga said.

Taylor feels the key is “really just trying to get healthy, and putting that injury back behind me and just focusing on getting better, because I know what I can do as a football player.”

How he’s used in 2021 will also go a long way toward helping him regain the form that he’d shown in 2019.

“I really focused on pass rushing, and I would say playing at the second level, like, the linebacker position. Not so much like last year. I played a lot of a lot of safety, a lot of like defensive end. I’m just kind of focused on playing like that kind of in the box area inside backer and just learning more about that,” Taylor said.

Story by Chris Graham


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