Bruce Taylor is a well decorated linebacker out of Virginia Tech. An all ACC player that was considered a leader for his defense. He has been billed as a strong guy that is able to shed lineman in the second level to be in good position to make tackles. Quick enough to chase down mobile quarterbacks and running backs. I did not have a chance to watch him play in college so I put a call out to Chris Hatcher from GobblerCountry (@gobblercountry) and asked two simple questions. Below are his answers:
1. What should Bengals fans know about him on the field?
On the field, Bruce was always a good player. He has rarely been dominant, but often one of the best players on the field. He has great football instincts, which allows him to swarm to the ball and be in on seemingly every play, making up for his lack of speed. I don't know if that's sustainable at the next level though, as the NFL has the best and most athletic former collegians at every position. He's basically a poor man's Vince Hall (another Hokie that went undrafted in 2007 but was the best linebacker in school history).
He is better in run support than in pass coverage, as most middle linebackers are. He's good at getting after the quarterback, whether on the blitz or on a delayed blitz, as his sack totals show. From a production standpoint, aside from 2010, he never lived up to what Hokies thought he could be. Of course, his 2011 season was essentially cut in half when he went down with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. That's the same injury that former Bengal and Green Bay Packer Cedric Benson suffered a year ago. Benson vowed to be back for the playoffs, (something I knew was not going to happen based on my experience with Tech players contracting this injury) but was unable to. Basically when a player has that kind of injury, it's at least a year before he is pain free in his plants and able to be 100 percent again, and in most cases it is never the same again. There is always some residual pain and discomfort there.
He also was moved last year from one inside linebacker spot to the other at Tech (essentially from middle linebacker to what would be the right outside linebacker in most standard 4-3/3-4 defenses) to fill in for another injured Hokie who would go on to miss most of the year. So those two things explain to a degree why his 2011-12 seasons weren't as productive as hoped.
In addition to speed and pass coverage ability concerns, Taylor has a tendency to be lazy in some of his tackles. He usually gets at least some contact on the opposing ballcarrier, but sometimes not in the way of a form tackle. But overall, he's a heady, instinctual guy who makes more good plays than he does bad.
2. What should Bengals fans know about him off the field?
Off the field Bruce has never had any issues. He's a bit soft-spoken, but he has always been respectful to the media and players and coaches while at Tech. He's definitely the right kind of player to have in the locker room. The fact that he was willing to make a position switch as a senior, knowing what it might do to his production and his draft chances speaks to his team-first attitude.
The best story I have about Bruce's character actually comes on the field, but I think it has just as much to do with his makeup as anything off the field. In the first two games of the 2010 season, Bruce's first two as a starter, replacing standout Barquell Rivers from the year before (who had essentially a career-ending injury), Bruce was called for two penalties, both suspect (a.k.a. incorrect) that ended up either leading to game-altering/winning touchdowns. But despite being vehemently opposed to the calls and stating his case to the referees, Bruce never seemed to dwell on them going forward, becoming one of the best players on the team and one of the leaders of the defense from that point on. Given the circumstances, lesser players might have struggled to overcome those setbacks so early in their careers having just been given the starting job.
As an undrafted free agent, the climb for Taylor to make the team will be steep. However, a good character guy that has the opportunity to work side by side with last years undrafted free agent star Vontaze Burfict could surprise some people. It will be interesting to see what this kid is able to do in camp.