Taylor keeps his word on defense

Times Staff Writer

Linebacker Christian Taylor stood up in the UCLA locker room Saturday before the Bruins’ 27-17 victory over Brigham Young and made his demand.

“The coaches were out of the room and he told us that this defense was built on people who were told they couldn’t,” cornerback Rodney Van said. “He said [the BYU] backs said we couldn’t stop them and that we needed to put a little chip on our shoulder and ride out there onto the field. That’s what we did and everybody found heart.”

Those are the moments, players say, that make Taylor seem larger than his 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame. As strong safety Chris Horton said, “Christian is full of words. He has a passion for the game. He would play through anything.”


This is the leader the Bruins lucked into, when Taylor decided to transfer from the Air Force Academy and walk on at UCLA in 2004. Three years later, he is irreplaceable.

Taylor, a senior who was long ago put on scholarship, calls the defensive signals. He is also in charge of emotional boosts.

“He’ll be the guy, after practice, who will want the coaches to leave and have a team talk,” Horton said. “He just has a good feel for what our standards are as a team.”

Taylor backs it up on the field. He was second on the team with 83 tackles in 2006, despite playing half the season on a sprained ankle. And his play has carried over into 2007. After his pre-game speech Saturday, Taylor made a solo tackle on the second play and put a message-sending hit on Cougars quarterback Max Hall on the third play.

“Guys like him, they think really good,” defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. “[UCLA cornerback] Trey Brown is the same way. Regardless of their stature or what people think of them, in their mind, they can play.”

That was apparent with Taylor early in his UCLA career.

“It’s not surprising that he’s the captain of our defense,” Coach Karl Dorrell said. “He came in here and did everything full speed his first year. You could tell he was a smart player.”

None of this success, though, has been a surprise to Taylor.

“I had high expectations for myself, but I’ve definitely been blessed to be in this situation,” Taylor said. “I’m glad I came here and didn’t go anywhere else.”

So are the Bruins.

Said Horton: “We want to be a championship team. He has the mind of a champion and the words of a champion.”

The Bruins’ defensive line took another hit Wednesday. Starting defensive end Nikola Dragovic did not practice because of a concussion suffered against BYU.

It came a day after the Bruins learned Brigham Harwell would miss at least four weeks because of a knee injury.

Dorrell said Tuesday that Dragovic would be cleared to practice, but on Wednesday the senior “woke up with headache. Whenever that happens, he has to clear another 24 hours.”

Dorrell said Dragovic would “definitely have to practice [today] to play on Saturday” against Utah.

UCLA offensive players did not enjoy film sessions this week of the less-than-acceptable play against BYU.

“Watching the film, you could see it wasn’t there,” guard Shannon Tevaga said.

“We got to play UCLA football.

“Make the right read, focus, hit the right linebackers, play smash-mouth football, hit people in the face.”

A smash-mouth West Coast offense?

“What is the West Coast offense?” Tevaga said.

“I’ve heard that all my life. I think West Coast is run the ball, pass the ball. It’s as simple as that.”

Starting outside linebacker Aaron Whittington did not participate in practice for a second consecutive day because of nausea, Dorrell said. . . . Freshman defensive end Akeem Ayers sat out practice because of an injured right knee.