NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Few defensive players in NFL history have made the type of impact Hall of Fame outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor had with the New York Giants in the 1980s and early '90s.
The legend of No. 56 is lost on many younger players, but that's not the case for Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Sharif Finch. Unlike most of his peers, he doesn't mention former Cowboys and Broncos pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware or Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs as players he molds his game after.
"If there was one person I'd like to meet, it would be Lawrence Taylor," said Finch, who will be playing against his idol's Giants (5-8) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) when Tennessee (7-6) travels to New York. "I wear No. 56 because of him. That was my favorite player growing up. I think he's, like, the best ever, so I'd love to meet him. The relentlessness, the passion that he played with. It's admirable. He's the one that started it. In my eyes, he's the GOAT."
Taylor welcomes the tip of the cap from Finch.
"Hey, I always appreciate when young guys show respect for what I accomplished as a player," he said. "I've been fortunate that all these years later fellas like Sharif still remember how I went about it!"
Finch lined up primarily as a defensive end at Temple. Now in the NFL, he gets to rush the passer from a stand-up position much like Taylor did back when he terrorized offenses. Finch made a play that would make Taylor proud last week against the Jaguars when he came off the edge and used a perfectly executed rip move to get by the tight end and strip the ball from quarterback Cody Kessler.
To complete the play, Finch recovered the fumble he caused. Even though it was the kind of play Taylor was notorious for making, Finch was reluctant to accept the high praise.
"You say that's LT-esque, but it's hard to mimic LT," Finch said. "It's hard to simulate Lawrence Taylor, because he's the best ever to play my position. He's an inspiration to me because of the effort he played with and the talent he had."
Even though he played defensive end and not outside linebacker in college, Finch credits his time at Temple for helping prepare him to be a pro. He pointed to how his head coach at the time, Matt Ruhl, would regularly push him to be his best.
The constant prodding has continued in the NFL with Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen. As an undrafted free agent, Finch was a high-priority free agent for the Titans. Bowen said he liked the physical profile for Finch, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.
"He had all of the measurables, and his suddenness rushing the passer stood out on film. He flashed," Bowen said. "He comes to work and tries to improve every day. He's made strides. His size and his speed allow him to make plays."
Bowen emphasizes the nuances of the position, such as hand placement and staying tight coming off the edge to take the fastest path to the quarterback.
"He taught me to keep my eyes on the target," Finch said. "That has helped me become a better outside linebacker, which was a transition from defensive end in college."
Finch said he also has learned a lot from veteran outside linebackers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, who helped him refine some of his pass-rushing moves that might have worked in college but don't necessarily cut it in the pros.
Heading back to the New Jersey area where a lot of his family is from will be a special occasion for Finch this week. He says he is on the hook for about 30 tickets to Sunday's game. Being able to play in the same environment as Taylor and wear the same number is a memory Finch will cherish.