Washington Redskins  

 

Sean Taylor on Redskins' minds as camp opens

  • By Associated Press
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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Clinton Portis signs a frame drawing of the late Sean Taylor for a fan.


ASHBURN, Va. -- There are tangible reminders of Sean Taylor at Redskins Park.

The wooden plaque near new head coach Jim Zorn's office, for example. Or the Pro Bowl safety's locker room stall, still arranged precisely as it was the day he died.

And then there are the reminders no one can touch or see, the vivid memories of Taylor that allowed him to make his way into his former teammates' thoughts Sunday, when the Washington Redskins opened their first training camp without him.

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"You know how it is when you lose somebody -- it's just personal experiences," said safety Reed Doughty, who moved into Taylor's spot in the starting lineup last season. "It might be a drill that we're doing that Sean used to do so perfectly and I can't quite get right. Or ... he might get that extra rep in when everybody's tired."

Taylor, 24, died of massive blood loss after he was shot at his Miami-area home during a botched robbery in November. The Redskins lost the first game they played after Taylor's death, then immediately went on a four-game winning streak to reach the playoffs -- and his was a constant presence along the way.

It still is.

"You can't put it behind you," said cornerback Fred Smoot, who left Sunday's second practice with a sprained ankle.

"We put it in front of us, actually. I mean, here's how we look at it: If you want a role model out there, a player that was relentless, never stopped, a true athlete, the best I ever played with at that position -- he's a good guy to set that example for us. So we're going to try to live up to Sean Taylor. That's what we tried to do at the end of the year, and that's what we're going to try to do this whole year."

Taylor's uniform number, 21, was on patches stitched onto the Redskins' jerseys and on stickers affixed to their helmets last season. Zorn said the NFL won't allow Washington to continue those tributes, but the team is working on other ways of honoring Taylor.

And there already is the 2-foot-long wooden carving that hangs on the wall across from Zorn's office door, with "21" carved at each end to flank the word "Redskins."

Zorn, who replaced the retired Joe Gibbs, didn't coach Taylor, but he understands the lasting legacy.

"I would never say, 'Let's move on from this,"' Zorn said. "It's really a devastating occurrence. Lives never are the same when a death happens or a tragedy like that happens. Sean has been a tremendous force here in D.C. and with the Redskins. We'll just remember him continually as we go on."

His locker at the team's training facility is intact, its contents undisturbed.

"It's hard to come here," said agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represented Taylor and works with more than a half-dozen current Redskins, "and not think about Sean."

The locker Taylor used at the Redskins' home stadium in Landover, Md., is sealed with Plexiglas, containing his No. 21 jersey stretched over shoulder pads along with a burgundy helmet, black shoes and white socks.

Cornerback Shawn Springs dresses at an adjoining locker in the stadium, so he grew accustomed by the end of last season to seeing that memorial. He wasn't as prepared for what he saw Saturday, when players reported for training camp and were shown a league-prepared film offering advice about personal safety.

At one point, the screen was filled with the words, "In Memory of Sean Taylor."

"That kind of hit home a little bit," Springs said. "But for the most part, it's a new season. That's behind us. Sean's still going to be with us in our hearts, but you've got to let it go."

Clearly, not all of the Redskins -- or their fans -- share that sentiment.

When players left the field after the morning practice, one fan handed a framed drawing of Taylor to Clinton Portis, who was also a teammate of Taylor's at the University of Miami.

Taylor jerseys dotted the announced crowd of more than 6,000 people who stood in 90-degree heat to watch practice -- a white shirt with No. 21, not far from a burgundy one, not far from a blue Pro Bowl edition.

"You always feel you're a piece of the puzzle away. If you could go back and fit Sean into this scheme, that's a piece of the puzzle," Portis said a few hours later, after Sunday's afternoon session. "To me, it would feel like, 'We're there. We're the Super Bowl champs. Crown us.' But not having that, as a team, we've just got to come together and guys have got to work. You're never going to replace him."

A few moments later, Portis headed to the locker room to change out of his sweat-soaked uniform. When he emerged, Portis was wearing a green-orange-and-white Miami windbreaker, with Taylor's 21 on the chest.

"Sean -- he's always here with us," Portis said. "He's always in the back of our mind."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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