By Darrell Trimble
Send an Email to Darrell Trimble Tuesday, June 10
Updated: June 10
11:45 AM ET
Last spring, Fred Taylor and his former coach Tom Coughlin said the possibilities were endless if the running back could finally stay healthy for a full season. The pair even waxed rhapsodic about the possibility of cracking the seldom-passed 2,000-yard barrier.
Taylor did stay healthy for a full 16-game slate, but he came up somewhat short of his goal. Not that 1,314 yards is an insufficient total, but given the lofty expectations it was a little disappointing. But this year, Taylor is making similar rumblings, only a new coach, Jack Del Rio, is preaching the Taylor gospel.
"He already has about 2,000 yards just in the first four or five practices," Del Rio jokingly told the Florida Times-Union, Monday.
Taylor, aware that he hasn't yet reached his potential, is intent on improving on his laudable numbers from last season.
"I want to be the most dangerous guy in NFL history," Taylor said. "I want to put the stamp of everybody's approval on what Fred Taylor can do."
Taylor, despite completing the 2002 season, wasn't all the way back from a severe groin pull that caused him to miss 14 games last season. But now, Taylor says he is healthier than he has been since the injury, and he resembles the explosive back that rushed for 1,399 yards in only 13 games in 2000.
"He's looked excellent," Del Rio told the Times-Union. "You can just see by watching him that he looks great."
The Jaguars had been hoping for a full season from Taylor for years, but unfortunately they got it the same season they had to let Keenan McCardell go in a salary-cap related move. Without a complementary receiver to share the load with Jimmy Smith, the passing game really struggled and the team had difficulty maximizing Taylor's efforts.
To give Smith and Taylor more help this season, the Jags brought in Donald Hayes and have recently contacted the agents for J.J. Stokes, Antonio Freeman and Oronde Gadsden. Stokes appear to be the favorite, because of his familiarity with the West Coast offense and Stokes' former position coach with the 49ers, Larry Kirksey, is the Jaguars' receivers coach.
If the passing game can hold its own, it will then be up to Taylor to maintain his health, especially since his primary backup Stacey Mack is now with the Houston Texans. Mack almost equally split carries with Taylor in the red-zone, and tallied 98 attempts on the year. Without Mack, Taylor will be asked to run the ball over 300 times and will most likely be asked to catch more passes out of the backfield. Taylor, for his career, has averaged under 21 touches per game.
In order to prepare for the extra workload, Taylor recently began a diet with a Miami-based nutritionist that was followed with great success last year by Dolphins running back Ricky Williams and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. His goal is to drop from 235 pounds to between 220 and 225 pounds.
"Carrying 10 pounds less will be so much better on my muscles and my conditioning," Taylor told the Times-Union. "It'll help my speed and help me get more carries at the end of games. My touches are going to really increase this season, and I need to be physically ready for that."
Despite last year's bout of good health, it's always best to knock on wood when involved in conversations regarding Taylor's durability. With an increased focus on getting him the ball, the Jaguars could help elevate him to elite status, or they can wear him down and see him on the sidelines once again.
Taylor is confident the latter won't happen, but in eyeing 2,000 yards last season, he proved that he's no clairvoyant. But if he can get some help from Mark Brunell and the receiving corps, he might stand a better chance of coming closer to that goal this time around.
If he plays 16 games injury free (obviously a big if), #1 fantasy back in '03 is not out of the question.