BEREA: With running back Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens coming to town this weekend, Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor figures it’s the perfect time for his 2012 debut.
After battling back from a torn left pectoral muscle he suffered while lifting weights in May, Taylor said he will play Sunday when the Browns (2-6) host the Ravens (5-2).
“I’m ready to go out there and get back in the swing of things,” Taylor said Wednesday after practice. “It’s crazy. Just rehabbing and just being out and missing all these games humbled me a lot. It’s time to go out there and show what I can do.”
He’s coming back with an attitude, too.
“They’ve got Ray Rice,” said Taylor, the 21st overall pick in last year’s draft. “We’ve got Trent Richardson. It’s just a name. Until we put on those pads, then we’ll see what’s up.”
The 6-foot-3, 335-pound Taylor has spent all season on the physically unable to perform list. Coach Pat Shurmur indicated that Taylor will be activated this week and fill the roster spot created by defensive end Emmanuel Stephens being placed on injured reserve with a neck problem.
Taylor doesn’t expect to start upon his return because his conditioning hasn’t reached an ideal level yet.
“I’m starting to get better,” Taylor said. “My wind is not where it needs to be right now, so I’ve gotta do all the extra necessary things I have to do to get back up there.”
Taylor plans to come off the bench Sunday and rotate with rookie defensive tackles Billy Winn and John Hughes. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who started every game last season alongside Taylor, did not practice Wednesday and might miss his third game in the past four weeks with an injured calf.
“I don’t think I’m going to start right away,” Taylor said. “They might roll me in just for this first game, so I can just get back in the swing of things. I’ve got to earn it. I haven’t played this year yet. What I did last year was last year. So I’ve gotta get in there this year and earn my spot.”
Taylor’s teammates believe he’ll immediately help the Browns’ run defense, which is ranked 24th in the NFL (131.6 yards allowed per game).
“I think that’s going to be big, him plugging up the gaps against this running back,” left defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. “He takes up two blockers. If there are 11 guys on the field and he’s taking up two, it frees up somebody.”
Last season, Taylor had 59 tackles, including four sacks, to go along with a forced fumble and a pass defensed. He led all rookie linemen in tackles.
“We’ve been missing him,” weakside linebacker Kaluka Maiava said. “We’re glad to have him back, and we’ll see what he can do on Sunday. He’s going to plug up the middle. He’s athletic as hell. I’ve never seen a big guy move like that before.”
The Ravens have several weapons on offense, but Taylor believes the Browns’ top priority should be stopping the 5-8, 212-pound Rice. In nine games, Rice has rushed for 824 yards (91.6 yards per game) against the Browns, more than any other opponent.
In Week 13 last season, Rice ran for a career-high 204 yards on 29 carries (7.0 average) to lead the Ravens to a 24-10 win in Cleveland. In Week 16, he had 87 yards on 23 carries (3.8 average) in the Ravens’ 20-14 victory against the visiting Browns. In Week 4 this season, Rice had only 49 yards on 18 carries (2.7 average), and the Browns nearly forced overtime in Baltimore before falling 23-16.
“The first game, he kind of got off on us,” Taylor said. “The second game, we played him better. This year, first game, we should’ve beaten them. [Stuff] happens, so we lost. This game, it’ll be a different story.
“That’s their key on offense — getting Ray Rice going. If you stop Ray Rice, make them one dimensional, if that’s all they’re going to do is pass the ball, we can handle that.”
To do his part, Taylor will wear a harness that covers his chest and wraps around his left bicep. Taylor had his pectoral muscle surgically repaired in mid-May, about a week after he tore it.
“I’m not thinking about it,” Taylor said. “If you think about it, you baby it. So I’m just going to go out there and play.”
Taylor can’t wait. He has traveled a long, arduous road to come back.
“It’s all day every day, rehabbing and just getting back right, getting your strength back and your conditioning back,” Taylor said. “I don’t wish an injury like that on anybody.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj