Back then, Ike Taylor aimed to please … everyone.
But then came the flip side. Taylor struggled last year. He wasn't the shutdown corner his potential said he was. And he got benched, the only one in fact. It made it look as if the Super Bowl hangover, the 8-8 record, was his fault.
Taylor, as they say, has been through the wringer. He's not looking to please anyone but his coaches and the other 10 guys on his side of the field.
The media? Well, they're seeing a new Ike Taylor, a more serious man who has too much to lose.
"I am," Taylor said without a hint of his old, fun-loving self. "Growing up, you know. I guess that just comes with the territory. It's just focus. That's all it is."
They say every successful team needs six building blocks: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, left tackle, pass rusher and cover corner. The Steelers had all that in 2005. They lost their pass rusher to creaky knees and then their cover corner was banished to the bench. The pass rusher has been replaced by a couple of high draft picks, but the cover corner has come back off the bench.
Of course, the question remains: Is Ike Taylor still that cover corner, that building block?
"You'd have to ask Ike that," said secondary coach Ray Horton.
"I leave that up to y'all," Taylor said of the media.
Is it too tough to answer? Let's ask the defensive back Horton, on draft day, called "a brilliant player" – Deshea Townsend.
Deshea, is Ike Taylor still THE cover, or shutdown, corner?
"He is that guy," said Townsend. "He's a great physical athlete that's getting better. The one thing about him is he's young, so he's still learning the little things about the game that apply to covering.
"Some guys have down years, up years, but the one thing that you have to be when you're a corner is to be consistent and I think Ike's going to be that. He's new to the position and still learning, and when you have a guy who's still learning, with those physical abilities that he has, he's going to be a good one."
Taylor was already there in 2005. He took away opponents' top receivers and his only problem was a propensity for dropping interceptions. He worked on that before the 2006 season, but the rest of his game fell apart. He was benched after the 10th game and didn't return until the finale.
What was the exact rationale for the benching?
"I think more for him, just to let him reflect, see if he could get out of it," said Horton. This year, Horton has been promoted from assistant to head DB coach. For Taylor's sake, Horton has gone back to working on the cornerback's basic fundamentals.
New head coach Mike Tomlin was a former DB coach with Tampa Bay, but the changes he, Dick LeBeau and Horton have come up for the entire secondary are subtle.
"We're focusing on a little bit more individual details as far as drills, and in meetings what we're looking at, clueing into different things," Horton said.
And how is Taylor responding?
"Fabulous, so far," Horton said. "He's focused, he's ready to go, he's strong, and he's competing for a job."
How about it, Ike? Is the confidence back?
"No question," he said. "I never lost it. It's just that when you're playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and you've got a fan base nationwide, it hurts to let the 10 guys down and the fan base down. We are human. It hurt me. But at the same time, you've got to stick with me. Anybody, any one of my teammates, no matter what we're going through, we still need that support."
It seems the serious Ike Taylor is also the hurt Ike Taylor. A year of criticism from the reporters he tried so hard to please early in his career has left him wounded.
"It's not really about anything else but going out and playing for the other 10 guys we have on the field. That's what it's all about," Taylor said. "I don't want to let Casey down. I don't want to let James down. I don't want to let Troy down. That's how I think. Everything else comes with the territory. The media comes with the territory. Y'all get paid to observe and make your opinions and we understand that. But letting those 10 guys down out on the field? Aw, man, that hurts."
NOTES – Two-a-days will continue through Saturday. The only change in the routine will occur Friday, when the second practice will be held at 7 p.m. at Latrobe Stadium. It will be followed by Zambelli fireworks. … The Steelers want LaMarr Woodley down to "255 or 260" from his listed 265. Right now he's at 264. … Ryan Clark and Jeff Reed confirmed that they had their contracts restructured this offseason.