Shrine Bowl Interview: Leonard Taylor Could Bring Valuable Depth Behind Pat Freiermuth

Growing up in Springfield, OH, Leonard Taylor exceled in basketball and football. He didn’t stop with just multiple sports though. On the football team, he played quarterback, tight end, and defensive end. A four-star recruit, he had scholarship offers from a multitude of schools, including the University of Pittsburgh. He eliminated programs interested in him as a defensive end. While he would have preferred a shot at playing quarterback — at 6’4” and 248 pounds he has the size and physique — he didn’t have any takers. He stuck with offense and landed at the University of Cincinnati as a tight end. Taylor grins and explains that he prefers the spotlight and a chance to shine on offense, especially when he catches touchdown passes in the endzone, as he did on a third and 10 in this season’s home opener:

In his first three seasons, his production was limited and he supplemented that by playing special teams. Over time he developed a close bond with then tight ends coach Mike Denbrock, who helped him hone his skills on the field and grow personally off the field. This translated into increased playing time and success on the field, culminating in the 2021 season with Desmond Ridder at quarterback, recording 18 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns this past year.

A recipient of the Iron Bearcat Award from the strength and conditioning staff in the summer of 2021, Taylor works hard to stay fit and only missed one game in November 2022 due to rib and cartilage injuries. He worked his way back after only one week, undergoing nerve blocks to help him tolerate the pain. He confirms that he is completely recovered at this point. I asked about the red tape he sported on his left ankle in practice. He clarified that he has been spatting that cleat for a few years to provide extra support after a mild sprain he sustained a few years ago.

The 2022 season brought challenges other than injury, as his tight end coach left for another opportunity and his quarterback left for the NFL. His trust in Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell, or “Coach Fick” as he calls him, and his familiarity with his new offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli, who was promoted from within the program, made the transition less stressful.

Still, it was a lot of change for a player who needed a solid final season to launch his bid for a chance to play in the NFL. On top of that, he had lost his grandmother, who helped raise him, to COVID the prior year. She was a retired nurse who was working in a doctor’s office. When he talks about her, his connection to her is clear.

When asked how he worked through such a turbulent time, Taylor explained that he went back to the earlier days of his college career and thought about what he had learned over the years to manage personal challenges. It helps that he has remained close with Coach Denbrock. And as far as role models go, he quickly reeled of five people in his life that he looks to for guidance. He is close with his mother and younger sister as well.

After working hard to develop chemistry with QB Desmond Ritter, he did the same with the next man up, Ben Bryant.  You can see that here on a 21 yard reception against the University of Southern Florida:

Taylor appreciates the opportunity to work with NFL coaches this week at the Shrine Bowl. One goal is to improve his pass protection, which he thinks is not as strong as his run blocking. He is clearly a willing blocker, as he shows in this clip, where he is lined up on the left against EDGE BJ Thompson (#96):

He takes pride in all aspects of his game, incorporating his high school basketball skills to give him an edge in contested catches. He feels confident in his route running and looks forward to showing that more as the week of practice progresses and culminates in the East West Shrine Bowl. He has good hands and ball security as he showed in this drill.

Taylor has already met with Steelers scouts while here in Las Vegas. As a complete tight end who can and would gladly play special teams, he could bring valuable depth and be a play-maker in two tight end sets.

As he looks forward to participating in the NFL Combine, he wants to focus on improving his speed.  His answer to a prediction on his 40 yard dash time shows his understanding of the process:

“No comment.  But my 10-yard split is more important for my position.” He wouldn’t give me a predication on that as well and just told me to stay tuned.

As far as what lies ahead, Leonard Taylor is excited about getting to the next level. And he seems to have all the tools to succeed.

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