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After 'Redshirt' Year, Hart Seeks Impact

Posted Apr 28, 2015

Taylor Hart is a year older and a generation improved as a football player and as a man. The second-year Eagle, selected in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, played nary a snap as a rookie. He's taking aim at a quantum leap forward in Year 2 ...

Taylor Hart is a year older and a generation improved as a football player and as a man. The second-year Eagle, selected in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, played nary a snap as a rookie. He's taking aim at a quantum leap forward in Year 2.

"Last year was a good thing as I look back," Hart says now. "It definitely made me a better player and a better person and it gave me the right chance to build the right foundation for my body and get ready for this year. I learned a lot from our group of defensive linemen, watching how they train and the way they are professionals.

"It was really beneficial for me."

In the context of the don't-judge-a-draft-for-three-years vein, Hart, a 6-feet-6 defensive end, is a classic example. The 141st player taken in the draft, Hart prepared every week to play. And every week of the 16 in the regular season, Hart was inactive as defensive coordinator Bill Davis went with his more-experienced group along the defensive line. Hart had to curb his competitiveness and channel it in other ways.

Hart lived in the weight room when he wasn't studying film or working on his technique in training sessions. He took the mental reps seriously.

"I did everything I could," he said, "and that's about all I was able to do."

And here is Hart now, filled out in more ways than one. He weighed in at 281 pounds at the 2014 NFL Combine; now Hart checks in at about 300-305 muscle-strapped pounds. He watched Fletcher Cox become an All-Pro last season. He saw how well Cedric Thornton played. He appreciated the professionalism of veteran Brandon Bair, who found a fit after some seasons looking for the right NFL spot. He took notes on the way Vinny Curry forced himself into the defensive line rotation by developing a complete game and improving what he does best -- rush the quarterback.

In Year 2, Hart takes a pause. The NFL draft week is here. Hart, married in this offseason, is a new man.

New year. New man.

"I'm a different player, I would say now. Strength-wise, running mechanics, there were a lot of things I was able to work on and I'm thankful that the coaches gave me the opportunity to do that," Hart said. "I'm heavier and stronger and every week that I work I'm trying to keep improving.

"Not playing last year was very challenging, but I was a redshirt freshman my first year at Oregon and I just made sure I stayed focused. I kept my head in the game in case I was needed. I owed the team that. I made sure I pushed myself and tried to get better. The lifting thing was a huge thing for me because I could have my own goals there and it was beneficial for me. I hit all my goals. As long as my numbers keep going up, I'm doing the right things."

Coaches speak highly of Hart's ability and his ceiling. He knows the technique taught by line coaches Jerry Azzinaro and Mike Dawson, and he's got long arms and a burst. Hart is a high-energy player who is going to be a relentless presence when he's on the field.

How much of a jump can Hart make in 2015? The Eagles have an outstanding group up front defensively with Cox, Thornton, Bair and Curry, along with Bennie Logan and Beau Allen at nose tackle. Wade Keliikipi is a developing talent.

"I'm super excited to get out there and play," Hart said. "That's the biggest next step for me, and that's taking my game to the next level. I learned a lot last year and it was beneficial to take all of those mental reps and to work hard on the field and building my body.

"The biggest thing for me was to do it the right way. I didn't want to put on fat. I wanted muscle and strength. That's what happened. I'm bigger and I think I'm faster and better. I have to get on the field and show it now."

Hart is out of his comfort zone, as he says. He grew up in Oregon and played with the Ducks and now he's in Philly as a young professional. A year of experiencing the ups and downs of the NFL has made him ready for the challenge of game days.

So Hart is pushing every day. One year seems like a lifetime for Hart.

"I'm sure I'll take a look at what we're doing this weekend," he said. "It's definitely a difference for me from last year to this year. I'm excited to get on the field and prove it."

Maybe it's fair, then, to pause before we evaluate a draft class. How much would it change the complexion of the 2014 Eagles Draft Class should Hart take the big step and earn his way into the rotation up front on defense and make his game felt? It's months away, but as the 2015 NFL draft nears, Hart's development bears watching.

He spent his NFL "redshirt" season wisely. The rewards will come soon enough for all of the hard work he's put into his profession.

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