Raymon Taylor is still a little uneasy speaking to the media.
Tuesday, he felt the need to fill the silence before reporters started asking questions with an uncomfortable, “Um, hi everyone!”
The reporters gave a little chuckle and the interview got underway. The spotlight is still pretty new for the sophomore cornerback, who has been doing exceedingly well in replacing sophomore Blake Countess, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Alabama.
Countess was supposed to be the rising star of Michigan’s secondary this season, which experts agreed was the Wolverines’ strong suit on the defensive side of the ball. Very suddenly, question marks arose over who would fill in and play the second corner position opposite fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd.
Junior cornerback Courtney Avery earned significant experience last season and had the first crack at the job. But a couple weeks later, it was apparent coaches had more faith in playing Taylor, and they named him the starter.
“Well, I think he gets better each week,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “I think the one thing about Raymon, he’s pretty physical. He’s tough. I think he’s making progress.”
Taylor’s physicality makes a lot of sense because of his background as the boundary corner, meaning he plays more on the shorter side of the field where the ball is closer to the sideline.
The boundary cornerback needs to be a good tackler because he’s oftentimes left on an island in man coverage while safeties are helping more in the middle and to the other side of the field. The reason safeties tend to help less on the boundary side is because boundary corners, like Taylor, can use the sideline as an extra defender, forcing his man out of bounds.
Opposite the boundary corner is the field corner, where Floyd has been playing in Countess’s absence. The field corner doesn’t have the same luxury of pushing his man toward the sideline because there’s more space for the receiver to work with. So he’d be more inclined to funnel his man to the inside of the field, where safeties are there to help.
It’s crucial that the field corner’s technique is solid because coverage there is key. But Hoke says that sometimes he has a harder time finding a physical corner who could play the boundary.
“I think they all want to be cover corners,” Hoke said. “So any time it comes to physicality, that’s always difficult.”
Taylor claims that he has since been learning to play on both sides of the field, which has allowed him to become a more versatile defender.
“The corners can stay on each side now, we don’t have to keep running back and forth from one side to the other,” Taylor said. “So that’s great for me and J.T. and Courtney.”
Essentially, from play to play, the short side of the field could be on either side, depending on where the ball is spotted on the line of scrimmage. So, closer to the beginning of the season, Taylor and Floyd had to keep switching sides between plays based on where the short side of the field was. According to Taylor, now they can stay put for the most part, with the understanding that their responsibilities may change from play to play.
“I could play both sides of the field now,” Taylor said. “The first game, I was just boundary, and now I could play field and boundary, so that’s the biggest part.”
Taylor’s quality play has helped Michigan’s pass defense become one of the best in the country — the best, according to the stingy 145.3 passing yards it surrenders per game. Part of that statistic is a byproduct of opponents running more against the Wolverines’ relatively weak front seven.
Still, coaches say they are excited about Taylor’s development, especially as they look to the future, when he and Countess will presumably play together for the next couple of years.
And Countess hasn’t been totally absent during his rehab. He has been helping Taylor every step of the way.
“Blake, he makes sure he comes to all the meetings, so we still still sit down. It’s like he’s playing, he’s just not on the field,” Taylor said. “Like he told me before we went to Nebraska, because he played against them last year, they were running double moves.
“He just said, ‘Your technique will set you free.’ ”