Tyrod Taylor, potential franchise savior, emerges with an ice pack over each knee and one over his shoulder.
The man is ripped — six-pack abs, chiseled shoulders, next to no body fat. Teammates say his workouts are the stuff of legend.
“Right here good?” he asks, nodding toward a trainer’s table along the sideline inside the ADPRO Sports Training Center at One Bills Drive.
The Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback takes a seat and for 40 minutes ... opens up. He rarely shows emotion of any kind at the podium, always stoic and careful. Courteous and vague. But such a public persona should not be confused for nonchalance. In August, Taylor will turn 27. He enters the most important year of his professional life with management challenging him to prove it, to prove he is their long-term, long-lost answer at quarterback before committing top dollar.
Into this contract year, he's the 36th "highest"-paid quarterback in the NFL.
He’s got the big arm, the 4.4 speed and, now, a year of experience as the starter. In going 8-6 as the starter in 2015, he completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,035 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions with another 568 rushing yards and four scores. He also missed two games to a knee injury, has drawn criticism for not throwing over the middle of the field and has not gained the trust of the front office yet.
So what makes Tyrod Taylor tick? How does he handle the pressure?
Well, for one, he wants to be “one of the greatest players to ever play.” Really. And, oh, he also believes “100 percent” he can do exactly what NFL MVP Cam Newton did last season with the Carolina Panthers.
Above all, Tyrod Taylor believes he will restore a winning tradition in Buffalo.
In a one-on-one interview with The Buffalo News, Taylor explains.
Q: You’ve become the face of this team in a hurry. What should people know about you that they might not?
Taylor: That’s a good question. I don’t know what people don’t know. I don’t want to say I’m quiet. I’m outspoken out on the football field. Off the field, I’m to myself. I’d say my dedication and my drive is something people don’t understand — the preparation I put in. Getting up at 5:20 every day to get over here and do certain stuff to my body whether it’s treatment, whether it’s working out before we have meetings, whether it’s to get some extra reps on the virtual reality. I’m just trying to better myself. At the end of the day, I play this game to be one of the greatest players to ever play. I have goals for myself and I feel I can meet those goals if I do the things necessary. I take it one day at a time, just keeping a level head. Never getting too high. That’s what I did last year—never getting too high, never getting too low. Just staying even keel through all situations.
Q: So you really want to be one of the greatest ever? You really mean that?
Taylor: For sure. This is an entertainment business. We get to entertain people. But what I want out of it myself, when I look back, I want to say "I worked for everything that I got" and I want to go down as one of the greatest players to play my position. I have a unique skill-set at the quarterback position. There are 32 guys across the league and everybody plays the position differently. And I think I do stuff differently than the next guy. There are definitely some areas I can work on. But I am striving for greatness in everything that I do.
Q: When did you first think this and set it as your bar personally?
Taylor: Greatness, of course, when you’re playing as a kid you’re playing for fun. I’ve always loved winning. Some people play because they’re just the most athletic guy. Once I got to college and realized I was playing for a community… in high school we did too but we always won in high school. If we lost it was like "Whoa, what just happened?" But once you get to college, you realize you’re playing in front of a bunch of fans and for a community, there are a lot of people depending on you. A lot of people on Monday mornings or Sunday afternoons in college, total moods are based on how your team just did. And you’re the guy who ultimately runs the team. In the NFL, it just steps up even more. You can’t feed into it too much because every game is not going to be perfect but if you’re out there chasing greatness, all those other things come easy.
Q: What was that really like, sensing the mood on the Virginia Tech campus after a win and after a loss — how do you quantify that? What did it really feel like on Mondays?
Taylor: One of our most down times in college was my senior year. We lost two games in one week. We played Boise State on a Monday and turned around. We lost that game basically in the last minute and then turned around and lost to an in-state school — James Madison — on a Saturday. So I was like "Whoa." First off, we lost to JMU. Kudos to them. They beat us. But we more so beat ourselves that game. We knew the challenges going into that week. We were able to turn our mind-set around. I remember having a team meeting. But there were people at our school like, man, this is the worst team ever. This is the worst group ever. To turn it around and win 11 straight games after that, you could see your community get behind you. There were a lot of people who didn’t believe in us. It was like "Whoa, man, we lost two games in one week." That was tough to swallow.
Q: Were students coming up to you right on campus, face to face, and giving you crap after you lost to JMU?
Taylor: Yeah. It wasn’t too bad because of the previous three years. In my four years at Tech, we won three ACC Championships. They knew what we were capable of doing and we were a talented team my senior year. We pretty much lost both of those games. I wouldn’t say we went out there and got beat. The first game vs. Boise, we lost in the last minute. And on the game-winning drive against JMU, we go down and fumble on like the five-yard line.
Q: So is this when you truly embraced a community being behind you and wanting to take on the responsibility of being The Face of a team?
Taylor: The biggest fan reaction I’ve seen was after we beat Florida State my freshman year. I was an 18-year-old. It was Coach Beamer’s first win against Bobby Bowden and we beat them at home in a night game. And to see the fans storm the field, it was like we won the National Championship. We did it with a nice win as well. To see the community get behind us that year—and to see it at a young age—I was like “Man, I want this feeling all the time!” (Ed Reed walks by) And then we started beating up on those Miami Hurricanes!
Q: You’ve been doubted through your career — including right now — so where does that inner belief come from for you?
Taylor: The inner belief for me comes from the Lord, first and foremost, knowing that he has blessed me with tremendous talent to be a starting quarterback in this league. It’s not an easy thing. It takes a lot of work. I’d say my work and my dedication is what gives me the confidence to go out there and do the things that I do. I know that people don’t work the way that I work. Everybody goes off into the off-season and does their own training. A lot of guys say that but I know the type of work that I put in. People around me know the work that I put in. So my confidence comes from that.
Q: That’s what Richie Incognito and so many of your teammates say, that you’re the first player in the weight room. But what else goes into that? What else are you doing that nobody else is doing?
Taylor: I would say the mental preparation. The physical preparation, you always have to be ready. Of course, I have to be physically prepared. You have to be ready to take on a season. But, mentally, you can never study enough. Watching film. Trying to get better. I want to be perfect in practice. I hate when I miss a throw or something gets away from me. I hate those moments because I know what it takes for this to carry over to the game. The team’s energy comes from the quarterback. If you’re there practicing in a down mood, that’s how the practice is going to go — on offense and defense. So you have to set the tone.
Q: Let's chat about your upbringing. Who made you who you are? What events made you who you are?
Taylor: My parents made me who I am.
Q: How so?
Taylor: I’m the only child. So my Dad was my football coach growing up. My Mom, she was probably tougher than my Dad when it came to certain stuff.
Q: She was the one laying down the law?
Taylor: Oh yeah. Not necessarily the one disciplining me but I was never going to be lazy around her. She doesn’t go for that. To this day, I get up between 5 and 5:20. And she’s already up an hour before I am. I wake up to text messages from her every morning. So the fact that she gets up and she’s already starting her day and working hard, that’s something that motivates me. I’m sitting there like “My Mom, she has never complained a day in her life. She works hard every day, puts on a smile and goes to work.” So what do I need to be complaining about? I have nothing to complain about.
Q: What does your Mom do? Your Dad?
Taylor: My Mom is a supervisor at a shipyard back home and my Dad, he started a real estate company where he basically buys and fixes houses. He also does some stuff for my foundation. We’re starting an AAU football league back home. Our AAU spring league should be launching next year. So he’s the ringleader for that.
Q: You never stress out. You’re always even-keeled. But have you always been this way?
Taylor: Yeah, that’s my personality. I learned that from my Mom probably; my Dad as well, too. I never really stress about a situation. When things are out of your hand, just give it to the Lord to be honest. Control what you can control. That’s why I prepare the way I do. Because some things that happen in life—and things that happen on the field—are going to be out of your control. If you prepare to the fullest, you’ll take advantage of those situations.
Q: So what has happened in your life, on or off the field, that you couldn’t control?
Taylor: On the field, injuries. Being drafted and not getting the reps that you want to get. But at the same time, when those reps come, being able to take advantage of them. That’s something our chaplain used to tell us at Virginia Tech and he was also our chaplain in Baltimore — “Opportunities will come” — I wrote this down actually in my notebook every training camp. “Opportunities will come. When they come, will you notice it? And if you notice it, will you be prepared?” That’s something I’ve always tried to live by. The shot will come. Just make sure you’re prepared. The last thing you want to happen is you get the opportunity and you’re not prepared for it and it goes by. There are so many new players that come into this league every year, so many players that play on Sunday. Opportunities are all over. It’s about what you do with that opportunity.
I look at Tom Brady as a perfect example. He was drafted in the sixth round like me. And it’s funny, we have the same birthday as well: August 3. I look at that situation, and even Aaron Rodgers, both of those guys believed in themselves whether other people did or didn’t. And when their opportunity came, they took it and made a great name for themselves as the top quarterbacks in the league.
Q: People will read your comments about aiming to be the greatest player ever and say you’re nuts. What do you tell those people?
Taylor: I’ve had people doubt me all the time. That doesn’t change how I believe in myself and how I prepare. I’m sure people told them the same thing as well, too. When it comes to my success, it’s not about the person telling me what I can’t do.
Q: So in your past, when were people doubting you? Were you ever asked to play a different position other than QB?
Taylor: I went to the US (Army) All-American Game — this is a story that will always stick with me. I was a top 5 quarterback in my class. And when I got out there, one of the coach’s had his quarterback but they asked me if I wanted to play wide receiver or DB. I told them, “No, I was invited as a quarterback.” So I went over there but I still wasn’t going to play. I went out there, my family’s out there and I wanted to enjoy it but I’m not going to play another position because I knew what that could do in the future and I know what I am. Going through that just shows that people are going to try to label you however they want to label you. What do you believe in?
People always make up stories about when I came out of college, that I was asked to play so many other positions. I was never asked to play another position. I’ve never worked at another position. People always make those stories up. Quarterback has always been me. Now, am I athletic enough to play those other positions? I’m athletic enough to do that. I could do that and I could be good at those positions. But that’s never been me. I’ve always been a quarterback. I think like a quarterback.
People even last year were saying, “Maybe he runs too much” and “Maybe he’s not running enough.” You can’t have both of them! People will always tell you what you’re not doing enough of. My goal is to go out there and win whether I need to run for four touchdowns or throw for four touchdowns.
Q: How do you want to be labeled? Some of us label you the guy with 4.4 speed — he can make you miss, he can dazzle. Some will say you throw the deep ball. But then we say you get hurt, you won't throw over the middle of the field ...
Taylor: The injury thing raises my eyebrows because I got injured on an illegal horse-collar. That’s the only time I got injured. I can’t control that—the flag was thrown. I went out for one play, I came back in. I threw a bomb, caught a pass and then threw the game-winning touchdown. It’s not like I went out of the game and you never saw me again. I finished the game on a hurt knee, missed two weeks and came back to play Miami and I never complained about my knee again.
Q: Did the knee linger at all?
Taylor: It didn’t linger. The brace was more so a piece of mind for the trainers. I’d argue with them all the time. I wouldn’t even practice in it.
Q: But that is a box that people will put you in.
Taylor: A long-ball guy. I can’t throw across the middle. I’ve heard it all. I want to be labeled as a winner. It’s not going to be pretty every week. It doesn’t have to be pretty. The Super Bowl was not pretty at all last year. At all.
Q: This is a team that has not given you a contract extension. They’re another doubter, really. They could give you a long-term deal if they believed in you. Does it bother you that you’re going to be one of the lowest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL this season? Your own employer is doubting you in that sense.
Taylor: Does it bother me? I wouldn’t say it bothers me. Am I aware of it? Yes. I understand the circumstances. I’ve said since Day 1 that I’m going to continue to keep working and bettering myself. I’ll leave the things I can’t control up to God and pray on those things. Right now, what I can control are these OTA practices, and commanding the team better. I’ll set the mind-set and the tone for our team moving forward into training camp. That’s all I’m focused on. The contract situation will take care of itself—whether it’s here, whether they decide to extend or they don’t—I’m going to play football.
Q: Isn’t the contract situation another form of motivation, of fuel for you?
Taylor: I won’t get too emotionally into it as far as letting money be a motivating factor. I don’t think that’s healthy for the mind. I would say that going out there and proving to people you can do things they say you can’t definitely motivates me.
Q: And what would those things be for you?
Taylor: Whatever the naysayers think I can’t do because I believe I’m a complete quarterback and I’m the total package.
Q: You saw what Cam Newton did last year in Carolina. He was the MVP and revolutionized the position in many ways. Can that be Tyrod Taylor? Can you do those same things here?
Taylor: I believe so. I am 100 percent confident that I can do that. Cam played very well and willed his team. He took his team to the game that everyone who plays this game wants to get to. I commend him for that. We came in the same year so I definitely kept up with him. We became friends throughout our time in the league. Yes, I am 100 percent confident I can do the things that he did. Of course, he started more years than I have and I’m not putting a timetable on anything. I want to keep grinding and I believe with the talent I have surrounding me that this team could be special and I can definitely take my game to the next level.
Q: We hear you at the podium each week and you usually stick to a certain script. But there seems to be an inner-belief, a confidence here that you need as the "CEO" of a team, a swagger to be the best ever. Is there another side to you that we don’t see at the microphone each week?
Taylor: Yeah. When I’m at the podium, I’m answering the questions that are thrown to me. But to play this position, you have to have confidence in yourself. I believe that I’m the guy to get the job done around here. The coaches believe in it. The players believe in it. That doesn’t come overnight or from me freewheeling and just slinging it around each day. It comes with preparation. The coaches — especially on the offensive side of the ball — know the type of preparation and type of focus that it takes and they know I am The Guy when it comes to that.
Q: So this off-season, what is a typical day in the life of Tyrod Taylor?
Taylor: This past off-season was unique because I was coming off my first year starting. Finishing last season, my body felt different than the previous four years. I didn’t take those hits week in and week out. I had to let my body rest but I got back to training right after the Super Bowl. I didn’t go 100 percent in right away. I gradually got my body back into it. I didn’t start throwing until a month and a half before we had to come back. I was actually down in Florida training with a number of guys — me and Charles Clay were fortunate enough to get together a couple times. Challenging myself, challenging my body. I couldn’t wait to get back here. That was a different feeling, I would say. Coming back knowing that this is your team—and you’re the one leading the pack—I was definitely excited to get back. I couldn’t wait to get back into Phase 1 and be around my teammates. Phase 2, just get back out there on the field and show the coaches and the players the work you put in. Moving forward into this five-week break I’ll take some time off but I’ll be out in San Diego working out.
Q: The Bills haven’t had an answer at quarterback here since the one you were hanging out with last week on the golf course (Jim Kelly). Fans are naturally skeptical at this position, year in and year out …
Taylor: I understand it. I understand that they’ve been through a number of quarterbacks here. That’s out of my control, too. That has nothing to do with me personally. I understand it. And I also understand a community that’s been through an era with a team that went to four straight Super Bowls. They’re used to winning. That’s a winning tradition. They won four straight AFC Championships—that’s a winning tradition they’re used to. This community deserves it. They’ve had some teams that were capable of doing it and just couldn’t get the job done. We were capable of doing it last year and just couldn’t get the job done. As a team, we understand, Personally, I understand it. And I believe that we can get back on track and get back to those days. It starts now. Us learning from last year, us learning from this off-season and hitting the ground rolling when we get back to camp in Rochester. And also us being healthy. We can’t go out there where some games it’s me and Shady and some games it’s me and Sammy and some games it’s not either one of us. We have to keep all of our playmakers out there.
How many games were me, Charles Clay, Percy Harvin, Sammy and Shady were all on the field at the same time last year? My guess would be two or three. We have to be healthy and each player knows that. For us to accomplish what we want to accomplish, all of us need to be healthy and we have to execute.
Q: It sounds like you’re embracing being the guy who can re-route history, who can change everything that’s happened here the last 16 years.
Taylor: Of course, you want to be part of a winning tradition. You don’t want to attached to anything like a losing tradition.
Q: So are you the one who changes such a losing tradition once and for all?
Taylor: I believe so. It’s not just me. It’s going to take a team effort. It starts with the quarterback and I’m willing to take on that role. I know I have the people around me—the coaches and the players—that are willing to change the mind-set when it comes to the Buffalo Bills. This is a great city. They’ve had a winning tradition. It’s been years, years ago. But they’ve had it and they deserve it. I know the guys I battle with each and every day in that locker room are ready to win. It just takes us going out there and doing it.
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More on Tyrod Taylor:
Last year's Sunday feature on the quarterback before his first NFL start
The "Dunne with Graham" podcast, featuring Tyler Dunne and Tim Graham, will discuss this interview and more on Facebook Live at approximately 4 p.m. today