Taylor, Claiborne Excel in LSU's Family Atmosphere
Arguably one of the deepest secondary units in the country in 2011 belongs to LSU.Following the departure of All-American defensive back Patrick Peterson, the Tigers' secondary is in the experienced hands of Brandon Taylor and Morris Claiborne.
Eighteen is a number which has taken on tradition in recent LSU football history. It goes to the player who best represents what it means to be a Tiger.
Taylor, a senior safety from Franklinton, La, has the honor of wearing number No. 18 in 2011.
"I'm the first defensive player to wear it," Taylor said "The previous players to wear it, Matt Mauck, Jacob Hester, Richard Dickson and Richard Murphy along with Coach Miles chose me to wear it, so its means a lot for them to think of me so highly."
Mauck and other former No. 18s chose Taylor in part because of all the effort he put into recovering from the season-ending foot injury he suffered Nov. 6 against Alabama. Mauck suffered a similar injury during the 2002 Florida game.
"I think he's a tremendous player and person," Mauck told the Baton Rouge Advocate. "That's kind of the whole point behind No. 18. You don't necessarily have to be a star player, but you have to lead on the field and off. He embodies all of that."
Claiborne, a preseason first-team All-SEC selection and a second-year starter at cornerback from Shreveport, is looking to add No. 17 to LSU folklore.
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"No. 18 has been passed on from great player to great player ever since Matt Mauck," Claiborne said. "This year with Brandon Taylor wearing it, I think it's appropriate because I wear No. 17 so we see it as the two of us getting closer both on and off the field."
Taylor and Claiborne make up a significant portion of one of the nation's most highly- touted secondaries. The two describe their friendship as a brotherhood.
"Brandon and I are always in each other's rooms hanging out together," Claiborne said. "We're some of the tightest friends on the team; we're always doing things like joking around or playing video games."
Taylor and Claiborne's friendship off the field has translated into a great partnership on the field. The two defensive backs played key roles in the Tigers' 2010 defense that ranked in the top 10 in three categories.
Claiborne led the Tigers and was third in the SEC with five interceptions playing opposite Peterson, who was SEC Defensive Player of the Year, winner of the Thorpe award as the nation's top defensive back and winner of the Bednarik Award as the top defensive player in the country.
Claiborne was named second-team All-SEC after last season. He became the first Tiger since LaRon Landry in 2006 to have interceptions in back-to-back games with picks against Florida and McNeese State. He was listed on the preseason watch list for the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards, and he was selected by The Sporting News as one of 20 players to watch across the country in 2011.
Taylor finished 2010 sixth on the team with 44 tackles in an injury-shortened season.
He has 20 starts in his career, the most among LSU's defensive players, and he has 98 tackles, 10 pass breakups and five tackles-for-loss in 36 career games.
Taylor was also listed on the preseason watch list for the Lott IMPACT award, which goes to the player who has the biggest impact for his team both on and off the field.
"It would be an honor for me to win an award like that," Taylor said. "(Former LSU linebacker) Kelvin Sheppard and Patrick Peterson won the weekly version of the award last year but it would be nice to bring the full season version to LSU."
Both Taylor and Claiborne are inheriting more from Peterson than places on individual award watch lists. The two veterans will be asked to lead a young secondary this season.
"Patrick Peterson taught me a lot," Claiborne said. "He always told me 'never take another man lightly because you never know what that man may do to you' and it's great advice, especially in football."
Taylor said both he and Claiborne are the leaders of the secondary because of their experience. He also expects young but talented teammates Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon to step into leadership roles.
Claiborne may inherit Peterson's position as kick-returner for the Tigers this season.
He had two returns for a total of 57 yards in 2010 including the 32- yarder that led to the game- winning drive against Florida.
"I got a couple of chances last year returning kicks and I think I did pretty well, but I want to take it to another level this year and get some touchdowns," Claiborne said.
Claiborne and Taylor share more than just leadership roles in the secondary. Both arrived on campus expecting to play different positions than the ones they currently occupy.
Claiborne was a quarterback and wide receiver in high school. He came to LSU ranked as the nation's 28th best athlete prospect by ESPN.com.
"When it was first proposed to me that I switch to cornerback, I wasn't that interested because I was a player who likes to get the ball," Claiborne said. "The more I played and the more I worked at it, I realized it came naturally to me and I never looked back."
Taylor was the top-rated cornerback prospect in Louisiana and ranked as the ninth-best cornerback recruit in the nation by Rivals.com.
"My transition was a little easier than Mo's because I spent most of my time in the secondary in high school, but we both had to put a lot of work in changing positions once we got here," Taylor said.
For Taylor, LSU means family.
He is one of three members of the Taylor family to play for the Tigers. Curtis was a safety from 2004-2008 and currently plays for the San Francisco 49ers and Jhyryn transferred from LSU to a junior college in spring 2010.
Claiborne strongly endorsed the family atmosphere at LSU.
"Our program and our university is a family, it's a brotherhood and you represent it everywhere you go on and off the field," Claiborne said. "It's bigger than you."
Both Claiborne and Taylor hope to play "bigger than themselves" to help the Tigers to a National Championship season in 2011.