Fast, but can Vikings' Taylor learn fast enough?

  • Article by: CRAIG MALVEAUX , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2012 - 7:24 AM

Nick Taylor played college basketball, not football, and is only 5-9 and 165 pounds, but his speed intrigues the Vikings.

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Rookie defensive back Nick Taylor (39)

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Nick Taylor relied heavily on the crossover at Florida International.

As point guard, he used the move to quickly maneuver directions and increase separation from defenders. Now Taylor is attempting to master a new type of crossover -- from college basketball point guard to NFL cornerback.

"I take it day by day, step by step," Taylor said at the Vikings minicamp last week. "It's been fun. I try to soak in as much as I can and improve every practice."

Graduation brought uncertainty for Taylor two years ago. After three years of basketball with the Panthers, where he averaged only 1.7 points and 1.8 assists per game after walking on, professional basketball wasn't an option.

That left Taylor with two choices: a career in sports management, the field in which he got a bachelor's degree; or pursuit of a career in semi-professional basketball.

He chose neither.

Instead, he tried out for several Canadian Football League teams before an opportunity to play with the Fort Lauderdale Barracudas of the Stars Football League presented itself in 2011.

"I've wanted to get back to football for a long time," said Taylor, who played high school football at Norland, Fla. "When I got the opportunity to play, I was thankful."

Despite three interceptions in four games and an All-Star nod, Taylor -- who is undersized at 5-9 and 165 pounds -- received little interest from NFL teams until his workout at FIU's March Pro Day on March 15. His 4.27 and 4.33 times in the 40-yard dash turned heads.

The next morning, the Vikings scheduled a private workout, and by nightfall Taylor had a three-year, nonguaranteed contract.

Until then, his claim to fame had been winning $25,000 in an NBA2K video game tournament in Las Vegas last year.

"I think they saw a lot more potential in me than just my speed," he said. "I played some receiver and other positions. They said they liked my approach. Even when I made some mistakes, I never hung my head. I got back out there and made up for it."

Coming into the Vikings' organized training activities, Taylor had plenty to work on: footwork, technique, terminology and familiarizing himself with the defensive playbook. But Taylor, 24, said the learning curve wasn't too steep because he already possessed the basics from playing in the Stars Football League.

Joe Woods, Vikings defensive backs coach, eased Taylor's mind with a bit of advice.

"I told him to be patient, execute the techniques, don't worry about the big picture, understand your job first and the more you understand what you do, the more you understand what we're asking you to do," Woods said.

And that level of understanding comes with time. Through minicamp, Woods continued working with Taylor on developing the proper technique and learning the NFL language before training camp.

"He's been instrumental in my development," Taylor said. "Learning from some of the veterans like Antoine [Winfield] has helped me tremendously, too. I watch how they handle certain situations and approach practice and try to pick up on their habits."

Taylor faces long odds when the Vikings open training camp in Mankato next month. He'll be battling time. Taylor has only so many days to get up to speed with the other corners in order to grab a coveted spot on the 53-man roster.

Woods said there's one thing that rests in Taylor's favor: He comes to the Vikings carrying a blank slate.

"He's raw. Doesn't have many of the bad habits some guys pick up through college or other places, which is beneficial," Woods said. "Our staff can mold him into the type of defensive back that fits our schemes, our style of defense."

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