While we won’t be naive (and/or like Rick Reilly/Peter King/insert-your-own-cliched-columnist) and claim there’s some sort of pristine or pure honor in playing out your four years that other players just don’t get to experience, we’d still like to point out the senior players that are likely to stand out in 2012. These players have put in the time during their college careers, and now serve as the cornerstones of their respective teams’ potential success this season.
We’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his team, and why. Have a different thought on the matter? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
Bringing back most of a surprisingly young defense in 2012, Virginia Tech‘s still in need of a leader to keep everyone in line. Obviously, that duty falls to one of the few seniors in the group, linebacker Bruce Taylor. While Taylor spent half of 2011 out due to injury, there’s little thought the time away will hurt his effectiveness. With five sacks and 53 total stops through about seven-and-a-half games last year, he was obviously on track for an All-ACC season. Now, he starts his senior year with a mind on redemption (both personal and team).
More active in the backfield than most middle linebackers, Taylor has racked up 11 sacks in what amounts to less than two full seasons of playing time. His abilities to pressure the quarterback from the linebacker position was also increasingly apparent in his absence last year. Burned by mobile passers like Clemson‘s Tajh Boyd and Michigan‘s Denard Robinson late in the year, the Tech defense was hurting for a spy defender, but no one truly fit the role as well as Taylor could. Closing out the season in such disappointing fashion — especially when one of their best weapons was on the sidelines — can crush a team. But for Taylor, perhaps it’s motivation.
At first glance, the Hokies will face at least five “mobile” quarterbacks in 2012, giving Taylor ample opportunity to show that last year’s letdowns were simply a fluke in his absence. In particular, the team’s likely circled October 20 and their rematch against Clemson as the highlight of the year. After losing to the Tigers twice, they can only improve, and Taylor will be used frequently to keep Boyd contained in the pocket. Overall, we expect a return-to-form by Taylor, to the tune of All-ACC first-team honors, as he positions himself for a career in the NFL. But it’ll all come down to health. If he can stay on the field, we’ll see the dividends immediately.