Raymon Taylor ready for challenge of becoming Michigan's top corner
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sophomore Raymon Taylor entered the season as a reserve cornerback with limited experience, most of which was gained in non-pressure situations.
He'll end the season as Michigan's most experienced cornerback for Tuesday's Outback Bowl against No. 11 South Carolina (1 p.m., ESPN).
The 19th-ranked Wolverines (8-4) will face the Gamecocks (10-2) without their top two cornerbacks. Sophomore Blake Countess suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the opener, and senior J.T. Floyd was suspended for a violation of team rules.
That puts Taylor in an unusual position of leadership, despite being a sophomore in his first season as a starter.
He's not worried about the spotlight.
"Everyone knows the situation, so everyone knows their job, and everyone just has to step up and make a play, do something different since J.T. is not here," Taylor said. "We're just helping each other. No matter who's in there, we're going to help each other. That's the biggest thing right now, is helping each other and keeping the team together."
Coach Brady Hoke said Taylor isn't quite a leader yet, but his play speaks for itself.
"He's a young guy, still," Hoke said. "That's not an excuse for him, but he's just young."
Junior Courtney Avery received the first shot to replace Countess, but struggled in that role and was usurped by Taylor.
Taylor went on to make 10 starts this season, posting 42 tackles and two interceptions -- one of which he returned for a touchdown against Purdue. He made some youthful mistakes along the way, but was steady and made big plays.
He ironed out many of his mistakes as the game slowed down for him, though, which he says was his biggest growth this year..
"Being out there with the first string is different than being out there with the second string and third string," he said. "The biggest thing for me was game speed. That was the biggest thing I had to adapt to."
Despite the loss of Countess, Michigan's pass defense ranked second nationally this year. It allowed only 155.2 passing yards per game, and never more than 199 in a game.
It has a new challenge now, though, with Floyd not in the starting lineup for the first time since last year's season opener against Western Michigan.
Avery is expected to replace him. He has played mostly nickelback in his three-year career, and struggled as a corner early this season, but also had no notice he would play the position.
Now, he's had five weeks to prepare for his new assignment, which should make him better equipped to handle the duties.
"Nothing changed for us since J.T.'s gone," Taylor said. "Everything is the same. The next guy is going to have to step up and make a play. Everything is still the same. Same game plan. Someone is going to have to step up like I did.
"We all miss J.T. He was a great guy, but we have to keep moving. I'm sorry he's not here with us, but we have to keep moving as a team and get ready for Tuesday."
South Carolina is more of a running team, which could help ease the transition. Coach Steve Spurrier said the Gamecocks are better when they are running more than passing.
But it's also possible South Carolina will take a couple shots at Michigan's new-look secondary. Spurrier said this week although Connor Shaw will start at quarterback, Dylan Thompson -- a better passer -- will see time.
"South Carolina is good," Taylor said. "But I'm up for the challenge."
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