Alontae Taylor, Tennessee’s Cookie Man, now a Saints rookie
The New Orleans Saints took a hit in the secondary following the conclusion of the 2021 NFL campaign.
It’s tough to lose both starting safeties but Marcus Williams signed with the Ravens and Malcolm Jenkins retired soon after.
New Orleans made out fine in response to the losses though, adding veterans Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye and Daniel Sorensen to strengthen that spot.
At corner and nickel, the Saints are loaded with Marshon Lattimore and Paulsen Adebo, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Bradley Roby and Ken Crawley as experienced options with starting experience.
However, life in the NFL is about the passing game. You never have enough talent on defense to combat it.
Tennessee’s Alontae Taylor was selected by New Orleans with the 49th overall pick. His versatility quickly catches the eye.
The Saints see the 6-0, 199-pound Taylor as someone who will contribute in numerous ways, even as a rookie.
“We feel like he comes in and competes at the corner position,” Saints head coach Dennis Allen said during last weekend’s rookie mini-camp. “He does have some flexibility to potentially move inside. He’s an outstanding special teams player, so in terms of adding some depth to our team, we feel like we really helped our group.”
It would not be a surprise if Taylor ends up seeing snaps at corner, safety and special teams this season.
“In college you don’t really think about all of that,” noted Taylor. “If you’re a corner, that’s all you are. But when I go back to there, I tell them to learn everything that you can; so you can play outside, inside and even safety. It will give you a better opportunity to succeed in the League.”
His early indoctrination to the Saints defense has given him confidence since he played in a similar alignment at Tennessee.
“I’ve adapted really quick. I feel like this is second nature. I feel like everything that I did at Tennessee prepared me for this. The defense we have is complicated, but it’s easy for me.”
As a rookie, Taylor will be afforded ample opportunity to contribute on special teams. He feels like that will be his time to shine.
“It will help me a lot. We do special teams everyday. I’m learning a lot. I look forward to playing special teams throughout the season. Whatever I can do to make the team and help this team win,” Taylor explained.
Starting 31 contests in 45 college appearances for the Volunteers, Taylor compiled 162 career tackles, 15 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and four interceptions. One pick was returned 56 yards against Kentucky this past season.
During the 2020 season, out of 439 defensive snaps of which 234 were in pass coverage, Taylor did not allow a touchdown pass. He surrendered one touchdown pass last season in 52 targets, earning the third highest grade among cornerbacks in the SEC last season. Alontae was also a three time SEC Academic Honor Roll member. He is an example of preparation meeting opportunity.
“(Tennessee) worked on technique all the time. I feel like my game progressed each year. With coach Josh Heupel coming in (2021), my confidence changed. When you play with confidence, it slows things down. Coming into the NFL as a rookie, I have full confidence. I will be picking the brains of the older veterans,” he added.
The Winchester, Tenn. native signed with the Vols as a four-star prospect in the 2018 class as an offensive star who accounted for 8,225 total yards and 75 touchdowns at Coffee County High School. He was met with a rude awakening when he arrived as an early enrollee during the spring of 2018.
As spring drills commenced, Taylor got the inkling that his days on offense might be numbered.
“We were in a meeting room. Head coach (Jeremy) Pruitt said that they were going to move some guys around. I thought to myself that I’m not going to move. They moved me to DB. I did it for three days, then I realized that I’m an athlete, I can do this. After three days, I headed back to the receiver room. The coaches were looking for me. They came and got me and told me to return to the DB room. They also told me to learn special teams. They told me that if I wanted to go to the NFL, DB would be my best shot. I just embraced it from that moment on.”
Taylor was Pruitt’s very first commitment as the new Vols coach in 2018.
With that experience behind him, no matter what the challenge maybe, Taylor doesn’t mind jumping to the front of the line as a professional.
“I feel like I was a born leader. I feel like it’s natural for me. Understanding relationships is the most important part. Building relationships is important. I’m looking forward to building relationships with veterans. I can’t go anywhere without leading by example. It’s just who I am.”
One key figure in Alontae’s life was his grandmother, Ginger Irene Burnett Reese. Influential in providing him structure and support as a youngster, she sadly passed away when he was 10 years old. Despite her absence, she continued to have a profound affect on him. He always promised her that he would one day suit up in the NFL. It’s something he set his mind to since as a first grader.
“That was my backbone, my rock,” he recalled fondly. “My grandmother pushed me throughout my college years. I know she’s going to push me in the League.”
The moment that he heard his name called in the NFL Draft, Taylor held her picture next to him and kissed it.
“I hold her close to me each and every day. I talk to her every morning before my feet hit the ground. I love her, miss her. She taught me right from wrong. She taught me a lot as far as being a gentleman and respecting others. She told me when you go to school and see people, say good morning to them because you never know what’s going through somebody’s life.”
Now about this rookie who is known for cookies…
Taylor became a local hero in Knoxville, even to some who were neither Vols faithful or even football fans. A local cookie company set up a promotion which would allow anyone who walked through the doors of their business to receive two free cookies for every interception that Taylor recorded. The pair of treats were normally retailed for $2.70 to anyone who stopped by Moonshine Cookie Company in Knoxville.
His NIL deal called for weekly social posts informing fans with a sweet tooth of the promotion. Word spread. Alontae became a local hero. The reason for the two cookies deal was due to his Tennessee jersey No. 2.
“At first I didn’t want to do it,” the Saints rookie chuckled. “They told me it would be simple and easy. I just did it. I got more picks than I thought. I got cookies for everyone in Knoxville who came to the games.”
His current Saints’ jersey number in No. 27, but the Who Dat faithful hope he maintains his sweet tooth for interceptions.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…