CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) Jason Taylor walked off the field after another hot training camp practice, his green No. 99 jersey still a strange sight to some of his New York Jets teammates.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” linebacker Calvin Pace said Monday, “but it’s weird, man.”
That’s because for years, the former Miami Dolphins star was despised by Jets players and fans. And, the feeling was mutual. There were insults from both sides before and after games, and big-play moments – such as the fumble recovery Taylor had for a touchdown in a win against New York last season.
If there was one player who would be voted least likely to ever play for the Jets, it certainly was Taylor.
Even Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath poked fun at Taylor last week, saying he liked how the pass rusher looked in Jets green, “and not that funky green they wear down there in South Florida.”
In a busy offseason in which the Jets signed a number of stars, the addition of Taylor might have been the most surprising. Rex Ryan wished for the opportunity to coach Taylor for years, and jumped at the chance to bring him aboard his defense in April. His new teammates quickly embraced him and put their antagonistic pasts behind them.
“With the history of the rivalry, I think it was a bitter rivalry and it still is, but at the end of the day, the players, we all play in the same league, we all respect one another and respect our peers,” Taylor said. “So, I think I anticipated it going pretty smoothly with the players and that’s exactly what it was.”
The Jets knew plenty about Taylor on the field and had heard about his exploits off the field, including a stint a few years ago on the television show, “Dancing With The Stars.”
“Ego? I haven’t seen that from him,” defensive end Shaun Ellis said. “He’s down to earth. He’s one of us. I never had a problem with him.”
The NFL’s active career sacks leader with 127 1/2 is expected to give the Jets’ pass rush a big boost. He was removed from practice Monday after what Ryan called “a slight groin pull,” but Taylor says he’s been feeling good overall so far in camp.
“I think I understand what I need to do in this system,” Taylor said. “I’m still learning how my job kind of fits in with everybody else’s in each particular defense.”
Ryan aggressively pursued Taylor, who was hoping for an offer from the Dolphins that never came. After weighing his options, Taylor signed a two-year deal with the rival Jets.
“We wanted him to be a part of us,” Ryan said.
Taylor initially took No. 95 because his usual No. 99 had been worn by Bryan Thomas for a few years. Before camp, the two struck a deal and Taylor got the number he’s most comfortable in.
“It’s weird that he’s here, and weird to see him with B.T.’s number on,” Pace said. “For one of the greatest pass rushers to go to a hated rival, it says a lot about him putting his differences aside and Rex being able to sweet-talk him to get him here.”
Taylor missed time during organized team activities and minicamp while recovering from offseason surgery on his right shoulder. Even during that time, when there were no offers and he was still healing, Taylor never considered retiring.
“It wasn’t even close, no,” he said. “I had the surgery right away just so I could play. I knew during last season that I was playing again.”
And now in his 14th season, Taylor is hoping to win a Super Bowl and help deliver a championship to a franchise that hasn’t had one since 1969. Now, that’s something no Jets fan could have imagined a year ago.
“Well, it wouldn’t be ridiculous for me,” Taylor said. “I tell you what, you play this game for one reason, and that’s to win a Super Bowl. That’s why I’m here. I’m trying to get that done. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, then we failed.”
NOTES: WR David Clowney returned to practice after missing two days to attend to a personal matter. … WR Braylon Edwards was limited with a sore knee. … Ryan raved about former first-round pick Vernon Gholston, who has struggled in his two seasons: “This is the most excited I’ve ever been about Vernon Gholston.” Ryan acknowledged that Gholston struggled last year because “it was a coaching mistake. I think we put him now into a role where he can be more successful quicker.”
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