Things got off to a rough start for senior H-back Ryan Taylor this summer, as approximately a week into training camp in mid-August the Winston-Salem (N.C.) native severely sprained his right knee. He hasn't seen any game action since.
"When he (Taylor) first had the injury, the very first thing we said was 'Just get well---that's priority No. 1---and then we would let the timing decide as to whether or not it would be prudent for you to come back and try to play and whether or not it would be in your best interest and in the team's best interest for you to redshirt.'" said UNC head coach Butch Davis.
"At first I didn't like the idea---obviously I wanted to be out there playing---but as the recovery period went on and it took a little longer than it expected---they had to do a few different things than we expected---so was taking a little bit longer (to get back)," said Taylor.
"He thought he would bounce back a little quicker than he did," Davis added. "Here's a guy that's been our special teams defensive captain for two seasons in a row. He wanted to play."
Although Taylor was able to return to practice recently and is now conducting full-speed drills, the decision was made by Taylor and the UNC coaches that it would be better for him to redshirt given he's missed the first nine regular season games and can come back next season stronger, healthier, and able to play a full season.
"He returned to practice probably about (two weeks ago) to where he could go full-speed live in practice and after the first week, his knee was actually still a little bit sore," said Coach Davis. "All of the cutting and the braking and playing on the scout team---it's just so much different than going out and pushing sleds and running on your own. When you start pushing on guys that weigh 300 pounds and they push back, it's a big difference."
"He still has limitations in that he can't go full speed (in certain things)," added Coach Davis. "So I would say that barring anything that would be extraordinarily disastrous, he'll probably red-shirt. That's kind of the plan now."
"For us to have allowed him to go the entire season and then to bring him back for the last three or four games probably isn't in the team's best interests and I don't think it's necessarily in Ryan's best interests, either," Davis continued.
Taylor had an expendable redshirt season because he, along with two other UNC players (Tavares Brown and Hakeem Nicks), played as true freshmen back in 2006.
"I guess since I came in and played right away I wasn't used to standing on the sideline much," Taylor said. "It's kind of strange seeing it from a different perspective, but it gives me a different look at the program, and I think it will make be better on the field ultimately."
"We've talked a lot about it, and he's okay with it (redshirting)," Davis said. "When we talked early right after the injury he said, 'If it's (missing) two or three (games) I'm coming back. I'm playing.' Once the reality of the nature of the injury (set in he realized redshirting was the best thing)."
As he works out now in practice with the UNC 'scout team,' helping the first and second-team defenses get prepared each week by running the opposing team's plays, Taylor is getting himself back in game condition.
In addition, he has been placed on a special weight-lifting regimen by UNC strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors that is different from pretty much everyone else on the team.
Now that they know he's redshirting, Taylor is essentially conducting an offseason workout program during the season, which he hopes will help him be in peak condition once spring football rolls around.
"I'm going to seize this as an opportunity, a blessing almost, to come back and get stronger in the weight room," Taylor said. "I didn't feel like my strength and conditioning was quite there from the shoulder that I had down after last season (which required him to miss all of spring football)."
"I think it's a great opportunity to get with the guys in the weight room, with Coach Connors and his staff, and get stronger," Taylor added. "I'm on a workout plan right now that's different than the entire team. It's pretty much the offseason lifting program, so I'm trying to take advantage of the time I have to get ready"
"(In practice) I'm doing scout team, which is something I haven't done a lot of in the past. I'm really enjoying it," Taylor continued. "It's giving me an opportunity to do a lot of stuff maybe you can't do on offense, and working on things and seeing if things will work that you couldn't do with the offense in practice, so I'm actually really enjoying being down there with those guys and trying to help them out. I think it's a great time."
"Plus, who can argue practicing against the No. 5 defense in the nation every day? You've got to be getting better that way," he added.
"It's nice having him (Taylor) down there (with the 'scout team') because he can help some of those freshmen," Coach Davis said.
"One of the hardest transitions for kids coming out of high school is that they're used to being the star," Davis added. "I got all of the attention, the coaches loved me and they hugged my neck, and now all of a sudden, I'm on the scout team, and the ones that generally go on and become really good players are the ones that don't look at that (playing on the scout team) as a demotion or as a second-class contributor to the team."
"They look at it as, 'Hey, I get a chance to go every day against the best players on our team. It's a way for me to improve and it's a way for me to get better. Ryan can help them (the freshmen) understand that, and also as they see Ryan doing it, it can become infectious."
While playing with the scout team, Taylor has been working with several of his classmates on the defensive side of the ball. He's been helping them by communicating with them about things he can do to simulate opposing players they may face on game day.
"I try to talk to Deunta (Williams) and some of the safeties and the linebackers about how I can help them out and what kind of routes, the particular way they run it," Taylor said. "It's great to be a help to them. It feels good."
Although he hasn't been able to talk with the coaches much about it lately as they work through the regular season schedule, Taylor figures he'll be able to transfer the leadership skills he showed prior to his 'first' senior season into what is now going to be his 'second' senior season.
"We haven't talked much about it---they're kind of wrapped up in the season right now---but I think as long as I keep doing what I was doing and add to that, there shouldn't be a letup of that leadership role at all," Taylor said. "I hope I haven't lost anything in their (the coaches') eyes."
While obviously this is a lost season for Taylor in terms of on-the-field production as a Tar Heel player, there is clearly a tinge of excitement for him knowing that he's going to get another season---hopefully a healthy one---to play with the 2010 UNC team.
"I'm definitely excited about the opportunities that I'll have next year," he said. "I was hoping this year would be a big year for me offensively, but next year I hope I'll do the same, and now I'll have more time to plan for that."