After making his first draft selection in 12 years, Joe Gibbs emerged from the Redskins' meeting room Saturday afternoon with an ear-to-ear grin. With the fifth overall pick, the Redskins had drafted University of Miami safety Sean Taylor--the player Gibbs said the team had coveted most.
"I feel like Sean really fits well with us," Gibbs said. "I think his athletic ability--the fact that he can cover the field back there--really gives you a lot of freedom up front."
Gibbs praised Taylor's speed and physical style of play and said several times that Taylor's ability to cover the field affirmed the team's decision.
"We think he matches up well with some of the people we play in this division," Gibbs said, referring to some of the NFC East's top receivers in Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson as well as tight end Jeremy Shockey. "Taylor's also very physical. I think the biggest thing is that he covers the field well."
During the draft evaluation process, Gibbs even assessed Taylor's value from an offensive perspective. With Taylor's instincts for interceptions--he had 14 career picks at Miami--Gibbs said the 6-2, 231-pounder could have a significant impact on how offenses attack the Redskins' defense.
"I think, in Sean's case, with the athletic part of it, you better have a quarterback that looks the guy off," Gibbs said. "You can't throw something in the middle of the field--unless you've got a real wide open shot--because he makes up a lot of ground. If there's anything bouncing around back there up in the air, hopefully he can be a guy that gets it."
Gibbs said he first was enamored with Taylor after watching a tape of the 2002 NCAA Championship game that pitted Taylor's Miami Hurricanes against Ohio State. Gibbs said that he liked how Taylor moved all over the field in that game.
"He covers ground like you wouldn't believe," he said. "He can really run."
The addition of Taylor, a free safety, should upgrade a Redskins' secondary that finished 2003 ranked 14th in the NFL against the pass. Gibbs also said Taylor will help improve the team's run defense, which finished 24th in the league last season.
"If you have a great safety in the middle of the field that can cover ground from sideline to sideline, what he allows the two corners to do is to be much more aggressive," he said. "If you can play aggressive corners and have a real good free safety, that allows you to take the eight other guys and put them close to the line of scrimmage. Now it's hard to run."
Taylor also returned kicks in college and Gibbs said that he hopes Taylor will be able to contribute on special teams next season in addition to defense.
"They say that he's terrific at blocking kicks," he said. "He's extremely quick. He has great range. So hopefully he'll fit in there too."
Gibbs and other personnel officials watched Taylor work out in Miami earlier this year. Not only was Gibbs impressed by Taylor's on-field skills, but also Taylor's stature surprised him as well.
"We went down to the workout, and I had pictured in my mind somebody who was real thick," Gibbs said. "I had a vision of what I thought he would look like. When I turned around at that workout, he was tall. He was cut and had a chest on him. He looked more like a wide receiver that weighed 205 pounds. He was much bigger and taller than I expected."
Gibbs said that the team had decided on Taylor in the days leading up to the draft. The Redskins were prepared to choose differently, however, if Taylor was not available. Gibbs said that he was somewhat nervous when rumors circulated that another team was going to trade up ahead of the Redskins at the last second and select Taylor. That team was later revealed to be the Cleveland Browns.
Gibbs said he felt a sense of relief when the New York Giants selected quarterback Phillip Rivers with the fourth overall pick. At that point, the Redskins knew they had their man.
"We became convinced that he's a very talented guy and can really add a lot to our football team," he said.