Garrett Taylor (17) and Kyle Vasey pursue a tackle on special teams last season at Ohio State. Taylor is hoping to make his mark as a starting safety in 2018. Photo by Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics.
Before he got to Penn State, Garrett Taylor was a pretty good recruit. A four-star kid with prototypical height and blistering speed and scholarship offers from national powers like Clemson and Michigan and Michigan State and Wisconsin and Miami.
And for his first three years in the program after committing to Penn State, none of those natural gifts were good enough to get him much time on the field.
There were solid players on the roster ahead of him of course, but even a few position switches — from safety to cornerback and back to safety — were enough to find him a role.
Then, this past offseason, with the chance to earn a starting spot in front of him, Taylor came to the realization that natural gifts weren’t going to be enough.
“This offseason,” he said, “I really focused on trying to become more explosive.”
Penn State had to replace all four of its 2017 starters in the defensive backfield, but Taylor is a big reason few around the Nittany Lions worry about a letdown in productivity from the cornerbacks and safeties.
A strong special teams player for Penn State last season, Taylor is now essentially taking over the safety spot Marcus Allen gripped the last three seasons, and he knew that to match Allen’s standard, he needed to do three things during the offseason: Get faster. Get bigger. And master the playbook.
“I think I just did a really good job of knowing my assignments, which allowed me to play confident, play fast,” Taylor said of his work during preseason camp. “I was where I needed to be when I needed to be there, and I made the plays I was supposed to make. It’s really big when you can put guys out there you trust, and I think I did a really good job of gaining (safeties coach Tim Banks’) trust.”
The results of Taylor’s work in the weight room were evident when his workouts were charted during the summer. He gained four pounds of muscle, up to 203 pounds, while his body fat dropped just below 10 percent. His bench press jumped to 350 pounds, and he’s squatting 350 pounds and cleaning 315. His vertical jump rose from 34 inches to 36.5. All the while, his time in the shuttle — the measure of the quickness that made him a four-star recruit, never wavered.
Taylor said he now has the ability to play physically enough to station himself in the box against the run, which is part of what made Allen one of the most productive players on Penn State’s defense the last three seasons. With cagey and speedy Nick Scott playing the free safety spot, Taylor’s ability to perhaps serve as a quasi-linebacker on running downs could make Penn State’s defense all the more versatile this season.