The Miami Dolphins' new linebacker is making a good first impression at training camp.
Jason Taylor might just make the team.
"The guy's a tremendous, tremendous pro," coach Tony Sparano said during the break between Thursday's two practices. "The guy comes out here, he doesn't say boo, he works his tail off, goes a million miles an hour."
Taylor rejoined the Dolphins in May after a year with the Washington Redskins, where he endured an injury-plagued season. At 34 he's the oldest player on the roster, and this is his 12th year with Miami, but it's his first with Sparano.
The coach likes what he sees from No. 99.
"I said this today to the team after practice: Having passion to play this game when you've been doing it for 11, 12, 13 years says an awful lot to me," Sparano said. "I still see the tools out there; I'm seeing more and more each day. I like the progress he is making."
There's a learning curve for Taylor, who finds himself at a new position playing outside linebacker in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection as a defensive end, and that's the position he played in 2006, when he was the NFL defensive player of the year.
"There are a lot of things he needs to do still," Sparano said. "Here's a guy who played 13 years, and we're saying that, but it's a little bit different position."
In the first five days of camp, Taylor has gotten plenty of practice time. He slid into the starting spot on the strong side as a replacement for incumbent Matt Roth, who is nursing a groin injury that has prevented him from joining workouts.
Taylor has 104 sacks since 2000, the most in the NFL during that span. The Dolphins are counting on him to upgrade a pass rush that was lackluster last season aside from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Joey Porter, who led the AFC with 17 1/2 sacks.
Taylor is lining up opposite Porter and adjusting to the new role and scheme.
"You just have to get comfortable with it," Taylor said. "It takes a little while to get used to it, more than a couple of hours. I need a few weeks and I'll be fine."
Taylor and Porter were teammates in Miami in 2007, when the Dolphins went 1-15. Porter had only 5 1/2 sacks while playing on the strong side in a 4-3 scheme.
"I didn't feel like I was used to help our team get after the quarterback and do what I do best," Porter said. "Now we're in a different defense and a different situation."
Porter thrived last year when Miami switched to the 3-4 under new coach Sparano.
"Having Jason back, I'm sure the coaches will find ways to put us out there where we can make plays together," Porter said.
Taylor may yet find himself in a situational role. Roth blossomed into a strong run-stopper last year, when he started 14 games after moving to outside linebacker from end, and his injury isn't believed to be serious.
Taylor's not lobbying for any particular role.
"Whatever I need to do," he said. "Put me in a spot, and I'll find a way to make something happen."
The role can make a big difference in productivity, however. In Washington, Taylor struggled with a switch to left end from the right side, and his sack total last season was his lowest since 1999.
Now he's in a scheme with similarities to the defense former Miami coach Nick Saban used in 2006, when Taylor had 13 1/2 sacks, forced 10 fumbles, recovered two, intercepted two passes and returned both for scores.
Taylor has faith Sparano will allow him to thrive.
"I think Tony's great _ his attitude, his demeanor, what he expects, and the way he is very demanding and sometimes a little rough," Taylor said. "I liked that from previous coaches. When I left here a year ago, I said I wanted to play for Tony. Now I have a chance to do it, and I am happy."