Branson Taylor is listed at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, but as he walked up to his very first media session Monday, it came amid cat-calls from a large group of Pitt’s defensive linemen watching. Habakkuk Baldonado even walked over to the scrum, a smile on his face, as he watched Taylor introduce himself.
“Branson Taylor,” he said, the laughter of Taylor’s teammates still lingering in the background. Taylor is a big, big redshirt sophomore, looking even bigger than that listed height and weight, and that’s even after he’s lost 10 pounds entering training camp.
“I’ve just been working, offseason, in-season, just trying to get better each and every day,” Taylor said. And with 10 pounds shed, he feels even quicker as he enters his third season at Pitt out of Elyria Catholic in Lorain, Ohio. He needs every advantage he can get to keep up with Pitt’s star-studded defensive line, after all.
“They’re great, give me a lot of moves,” Taylor said about competing against Pitt’s defensive line. “I talk to them after practice, work with them after practice every day. They’re a great group of kids.
“They’re all hard workers. I can’t even answer (who the toughest is to go against); they’re all giving me a hard time. Iron sharpens iron.”
Taylor, who wasn’t able to participate in the spring due to injury, has emerged in a big way this summer. Head coach Pat Narduzzi said that Taylor has been outstanding this summer, lauding his progression. And in playing both left and right tackle thus far, his versatility has been a calling card. It’s a trait, he said, that the next level looks for. But it isn’t just Taylor, it’s the entire offensive line that’s been rotating.
With Pitt’s increased emphasis on running the football, new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. looking to balance last season’s pass-heavy attack, the increased run blocking opportunity are exciting for Pitt’s offensive line.
“I feel like that’s the nature of the game, get down and dirty for the run game,” Taylor said. “So, I would say, but we’re more versatile, we like to run and pass, so whatever takes the win.”
Taylor only accumulated 53 snaps as a freshman in 2021, grading out very positively in his snaps as a right tackle and extra blocker, and he said the experience was just that — great experience. Taylor had fun last season, and he’s looking forward to continuing to learn from last’s season starting unit. “I’ve learned from them,” Taylor said, “and they’ve just taught me to compete every day and get better.”
No matter what Taylor’s role is in 2022, he just wants to help the team win in any way possible. If he starts, excellent. If he doesn’t, just a chance to grow. At the end of the day, he’s focused on competing and growing each and every day. And one of the guys he’s grown with has been true freshman Ryan Baer.
Baer, who stands at 6-foot-7, 335 pounds, is one of the only players on the roster who stands bigger and taller than Taylor. And as two youngster competing for playing time, it’s been a relationship that has helped both players grow.
“(Baer’s) gonna be good,” Taylor said. “We talk every day, he asks me questions, I ask him questions. He’s gonna be good.”
It won’t come in 2022, it may not in 2023, but the duo of Taylor and Baer appears destined to hold down the tackle spots at Pitt in the future.