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Giants’ Taylor Working Harder Than Ever

NEWSDAY

It’s another typical day at Giants training camp: hot, humid and a lot of hitting. Lawrence Taylor, the most dominant linebacker of the 1980s and not too shabby thus far in the ‘90s, is taking his reps in a pass-rush drill against an overmatched rookie.

At the snap, Taylor spins like a top and zips past the stunned tackle, who is left blocking nothing but air. It’s almost too easy.

Later, during a lunch break, Taylor parks his convertible white Jaguar in front of the dining hall. He signs a few autographs, grabs a quick bite, then hunts for Giants public relations director Ed Croke. Golf is what Taylor has on his mind now. The afternoon practice will be done about 4 p.m., and Taylor wants to line up a golf course where he can get in a quick 18 holes before a 7:30 p.m. meeting.

By day’s end, it all works out. Taylor busts his tail in practice, whips through 18 holes at a nearby country club and makes it back before the evening meeting. No speeding tickets to spoil the day.

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The beauty of it all from the Giants perspective is Taylor is acting like his old self. If there was concern that he would lose some of his fire and uniqueness mourning the departure of former coach and good friend Bill Parcells, he has erased them by being one of the hardest workers on the practice field.

“I think he’s approached the camp just the way I would like him to,” Parcells’ successor, Ray Handley, said. “I think he’s getting himself ready to have a great season. He’s worked at it very hard. I’ve had no opportunity at all to complain about his performance. Not that I was looking for one. I couldn’t have asked for him to have come in and given me a better camp than he has up to this point.

“He’s a professional and he’s going to do what it takes for him to play. I think it would have been nice in his mind to have gone out the same time that Bill did. But Lawrence wasn’t ready to end his career.”

Parcells’ resignation May 15 was an emotional shock for Taylor. The two arrived at Giants Stadium in 1981: Taylor as the No. 1 draft pick, Parcells as the defensive coordinator. The two helped turn a losing franchise into a two-time Super Bowl champion. Parcells treated Taylor with kid gloves, defended him like a father during his drug troubles and knew the right buttons to push to get him to perform on Sundays.

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When Parcells resigned, an angry Taylor blamed the Giants. “I don’t see how George Young and the Giant organization could allow that man to go,” Taylor said in May. “I can’t see it ... Bill Parcells is the blueprint of this team. Without him, it’s going to be hard to make a lot of things work.”

Almost three months later, Taylor has accepted the transition. In the second year of a three-year contract that will be his last, Taylor has not challenged Handley’s authority and has dedicated himself to preparing for what he hopes will be a vintage LT season.

“I’m working harder than I have in the past,” said Taylor, who for the first time in years has added weightlifting to his workout routine. “I’m just trying to be the best I can be over 11 years. I figure if I can be one of the best in my 11th season, I might put to rest all doubt, who’s the best in the game.”

Taylor, 32, will make $1.5 million this year and $1.45 million next year. He’ll then retire and wait the mandatory five years for his induction to the Hall of Fame. But instead of cruising out, Taylor said these last two seasons are as important to him as the previous 10. “It’s the last two years and I want to end on a good note,” he said. “I want to still be considered one of the best when I leave this game. This year, I’m working hard to be one of the best, if not best this year.”

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His teammates have taken notice. “He’s grown up. That’s the best way I can put it,” said linebacker Johnie Cooks. “He’s really working hard. That’s why our defense is so much further along this year than it was last year (when Taylor was a summer-long holdout). When you see the greatest player in the game working hard, that makes everybody else work hard.”

Quarterback Phil Simms added, “He liked Bill a lot and talked highly of Bill all the time, but he’s still got to go out and do his job. The main thing, and I’ve said it a hundred times, is the greatest quality Lawrence has is his competitive spirit. As soon as he steps out there it comes out every time. He can’t stop that.”

Former Giant George Martin said, “When Lawrence Taylor starts becoming a role model to his contemporaries that’s a pretty good statement in itself.”

Still, at age 32, Taylor has maintained some of his rebel reputation. He reported six hours late the first day of training camp, saying, “Don’t blame me, blame the foursome ahead of me.” And when his Jaguar sprung a radiator leak one evening, Taylor parked it on the road, grabbed his golf clubs and walked back to the dorm. The dealer had to pick up the car and repair it before Taylor would agree to take it back. “There’s always going to be a lot of LT in Lawrence,” Cooks said.

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It will be interesting to see what kind of year Taylor does have. Though he was voted to a record 10th straight Pro Bowl, the 1990 season had plenty of valleys. He went through a six-game stretch without a sack and was credited for just two sacks during a nine-game span. At one point, he complained the defensive schemes were too restrictive. The Giants made some adjustments and he totaled 4.5 sacks in the last four regular-season games.

He still had a knack for the big play, recording three sacks in the season opener against the Eagles; returning an interception for a touchdown at Dallas; and recovering the Roger Craig fumble in the NFC title game that led to Matt Bahr’s winning field goal.

He wants to do more of those things in 1991. “I still love the sport,” Taylor said. “That’s my motivation.”

He was asked if he still loved the game as much now that Parcells is gone and Handley is the coach.

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“I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “I’m here to work hard and I’m here to play ball. It’s a little different this year. You’ve got to work a little harder. I don’t know the coach well enough to be (messing around) with him, so I’ve just got to do what I’m told just like everybody else.”

Then with a smile, he added. “For once, I’m just another player.”

Seeking his 11th straight Pro Bowl.


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