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Taylor Mays’ Greatest Hits

Posted: July 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: College Football Hits | 11 Comments »

Watching a highlight reel of the greatest hits from Taylor Mays’ days at Southern Cal is the stuff of an offensive coordinator’s worst nightmares. Throwing his freakish 6’3″ 230-pound frame around the football field like a speeding car, Mays made a habit of laying waste to skill players who were either not paying attention, not good enough to elude the hit or, simply, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now a member of the 49ers, Mays would undoubtedly love to mimic another USC safety that had a big impact in San Francisco: Ronnie Lott.

In no particular order, the descriptions and URLs below represent a compilation of Mays’ fiercest work in the secondary at USC. Some of the material may not be suited for receivers with a tendency to challenge safeties across the middle.

USC versus California (2008)

Mays laid the wood on a couple of receivers in this game. One of the most difficult parts about handling a safety like Mays goes deeper than his instincts for the game. An obvious knack for headhunting and anticipating a play would have helped Mays to a successful Division I career regardless of his size. That size, however, gave him an upper hand. At the college level, Mays’ figure served dual purposes. First, safeties with height have an easier time dealing with plays over the middle of the field. His ability to clearly read the quarterback’s eyes was a huge disadvantage. In the college game, all but the most elite quarterbacks still fall victim to the giveaways that lead to interceptions and exposed, vulnerable receivers. The second benefit of Mays’ size in college was that, more often than not, he was the best athlete on the field in a frame suited for linebackers or tight ends. The URL links to two hits in a game Southern Cal played against Cal in 2008. In each clip, the quarterback sold his read to Mays long before the ball was in the air. The results were a pass break-up via contact and a mind-changing lick on a wide receiver downfield.

USC versus Arizona (2009)

Like the previous clips, this example is one of a quarterback telegraphing their throw. Against Arizona, Mays was able to close about 10 yards on this play in the time it took for the quarterback to decide on hit target and the ball to reach the receiver. Although his combine time wasn’t overwhelming, Mays is surprisingly fast and has been clocked in the 4.3 range. If he can learn to break down offenses and wrap up in the NFL, his potential is unlimited. The receiver in this clip is lucky the result of this play was an incompletion and not an official timeout for injury.

USC versus Arizona (2008)

There are a couple of hits in the clip below that clearly depict another of Mays’ biggest strengths in college: everyone else on his team. USC was so dominant for most of the 2000’s that their talent level was far superior to anything else in the PAC 10 and most of the country. Barring the other major programs, offensive players never found themselves in the types of predicaments that arose when playing USC. Taylor Mays was good in run defense due in large part to the terrific linebacker and defensive line play of his teammates. Running backs often saw the need to change directions at or behind the line of scrimmage as gaps were filled by the likes of Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Sedrick Ellis. The coaching staff at USC, aware of their gluttony of talents, was fairly flexible with their defensive studs. By allowing their stars to occasionally run free, USC’s coaches created some defenses that instilled fear in their opponents and generated a vault’s worth of highlight reel material.

USC versus Penn State (2009)

In an effort to accurately describe Taylor Mays and the pros and cons of his playing ability, the hit he laid on Jordan Norwood in the Rose Bowl on January, 1, 2009, must be included. One of the biggest concerns NFL teams had about Mays is his attitude towards the game and his reckless style of play.

A common occurrence in high school and most divisions of college play, leading with the head is something players learn – at a young age – is effective in getting results. Stars on their teams, secondary players would put a lick on unsuspecting receivers or quarterbacks to hear the crack of the helmet and the roar of the crowd.

Big hits are a form of intimidation as much as anything else, and little would shut up a high school player faster than ringing their bell. The problem Mays faced at the level of college ball USC plays – and likely a problem he will have in the NFL – is that personal foul penalties can kill a team’s chances of winning.

In the NFL, wins may be directly related to incentives, and nothing trumps an appearance in the Super Bowl. Getting your team penalized with reckless behavior is as devastating as taking plays off. There is a choice made, at some point in the thought process, to go against the fundamental principles of tackling to “see what you hit”. Safeties that put their heads down and time a hit effectively are no less than really big bullets with brains.

Jordan Norwood was not a victim of his quarterback in this instance as much as he was of the route. Kind of an out and up, he turned across the center of the field to catch the pass on his back shoulder. Usually a good method of protecting one’s self over the middle, Norwood was the unfortunate recipient of a crushing blow that went straight through his helmet into one of Mays’ own player. Both were dropped in a flash and struggled to gather themselves.

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