Former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, drafted by Baltimore in the sixth round this year, has a few things in common with Ravens fans right now.
He doesn't know when training camp is going to begin, but he is anxious for it to get here.
"I'm ready to play some football," said Taylor, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch for the Bowie Baysox last Thursday, then signed autographs for fans for nearly an hour in the 100-degree heat. "I've been working real hard. I know whenever it's time to go to camp, I'll be prepared."
Taylor still isn't officially a Raven, and he can't be until the NFL owners and the NFLPA leadership come to an agreement on a new labor contract that would end the current lockout. Players are still reviewing a proposal agreed upon by the owners last week, and they could vote on it as soon as Monday, meaning camp and free agency could begin later in the week.
But until then, players like Taylor — who were drafted in April, but haven't signed contracts — will remain in relative limbo. They aren't part of the negotiations or part of the union yet, but they also can't have any contact with the coaching staff. And while drafted players would normally have the entire off season — including passing camps and organized team workouts — to win over the coaching staff, the lockout means they're likely to have only a few weeks to get up to speed and convince an NFL team they deserve to be on the 53-man roster.
"The time is really shortened, but the at the same time, everyone is in a similar situation," Taylor said. "It's not like they just locked me out. I know when the time comes, I'm going to play some great football. I'm really excited to be a part of a football team again."
It's clear the Ravens view Taylor as a bit of project, albeit one with tremendous potential. They don't plan to move him to another position. Although Joe Flacco is clearly the Ravens long-term quarterback, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wasn't shy about using Troy Smith in certain packages until Smith seemed reluctant to go along with it. Taylor said he and Cameron spent the entire 7th round on the phone, talking about ways the Ravens might use him in 2011 and what he needed to do to prepare himself.
"We drafted him as a quarterback, and he was evaluated as a quarterback," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said right after the Ravens drafted Taylor. "We feel like he has the skill sets to play the position and he also brings the added dimension of being a terrific athlete that can — as we see so much now — get out of the pocket and hurt people."
Taylor played four years at Virginia Tech, and by his senior year, he had developed into the most dynamic player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He threw for 2,531 yards and 23 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He completed 60.4 percent of his passes, and rushed for 637 yards, the kind of gaudy statistics that inspired comparisons to former Hokie Michael Vick.
While some players might shy away from Vick's shadow, Taylor has embraced the comparison, in part because Vick has embraced him. Taylor and Vick grew up just miles from one another (in Hampton and Newport News, Va., respectively), and over the years, they've developed a close friendship. The Eagles quarterback spent the off season mentoring Taylor on some of the nuances of the NFL, watching film with him and working on his footwork. Taylor has also been lifting three days a week, and throwing to receivers five days a week.
"We've had the chance to work out a lot back home," Taylor said of Vick. "The [Eagles'] offense is similar to the Ravens', so it was just an opportunity to pick his brain a bit. We're from the same area. We grew up about five minutes apart. He's a person I've looked up to for awhile. I've loved watching his game. I patterned my game after him, and I think we have a lot of things that are similar. He taught me a lot about his work ethic and how he goes about his workouts."
Taylor said he was quickly able to grasp how passionate Ravens fans are. His said his Twitter account (@TyrodTaylor) has been bombarded by fans welcoming him to the team, and despite the heat the other night in Bowie, fans patiently waited in a sweaty line so they could get his autograph and take a picture with him.
Taylor admits he's been day-dreaming a bit lately about what his role might be.
"I just want to be on the field," Taylor said. "Anything I can do to contribute to a win, I'll do."
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