“Has job to do’’
Reunion in Foxborough
Taylor looks forward to running into (and past) ex-mates
FOXBOROUGH - Fred Taylor had a way of teasing his teammates when he was in Jacksonville. Shortly after Jack Del Rio left his post as the defensive coordinator at Carolina in 2003 to lead the Jaguars, he built a defense that would eventually rank second in the league.
Taylor admitted he used the ranking to tease his teammates.
“ ‘Hey, I would bust y’all up if I was somewhere else,’ ’’ he recalled saying to the Jaguars’ defenders. “Part of it is joking, but part of it is serious in me being confident in my abilities.’’
Tomorrow, Taylor could get his chance.
The Jaguars cut Taylor in February after 11 seasons and he signed with the Patriots. Taylor appeared poised to emerge as a frequent carrier for the Patriots but injured his right ankle against Baltimore in Week 4 and has not played since.
As Taylor worked to be game ready, he said he is not preparing any differently just because the opponent is the Jaguars.
“It’ll be great to see all those guys,’’ Taylor said. “It’s just a build-up this week, but it’s not me versus them. It’s the Jaguars versus the Patriots. I’ve been around a long time. I know how build-up is always good entertainment, but Sunday I have a job to do.’’
In the days leading up to tomorrow’s game, Taylor found himself in the midst of controversy as he made comments about the lack of fan support in Jacksonville and the general preparation in New England that seemed to put off Del Rio. Taylor said he never meant to offend in either statement and is looking forward to shaking hands with Del Rio.
Taylor is a Florida native who played college ball at the University of Florida. He holds Jacksonville close to him, but admitted that being cut served as a motivation. With Maurice Jones-Drew emerging as the primary option in the Jaguars’ backfield, Taylor’s tenure in Jacksonville was over.
When Taylor was cut, he received a letter explaining the decision, but adding sting.
“It went something like I wasn’t able to perform up to the level of the players around me,’’ Taylor said. “That was the only thing that kind of made me hold on to me getting cut a little longer. It made it a little harder to swallow and it definitely motivated me in my workouts.
“I got over it fairly quick, I think. Knowing that it’s a business, that helped me to ease the pain a bit. But it is what it is right now. I’m here now, I’m in the moment and that’s what it is. It’d be hard to find a lot of young guys that can do what I do at the age [34 on Jan. 27] that I’m doing it. But I still feel like I can do what they do at the age that they are now.’’
Taylor’s best performance with the Patriots came against Atlanta when he picked up 105 yards on 21 carries and added a touchdown. In back-to-back games against the Jets and Falcons he averaged at least five yards a carry.
But it was the lessons he left behind in Jacksonville that Jones-Drew holds on to. The two worked out together in the offseason. Jones-Drew said when he was drafted in 2006, Taylor openly guided him.
“You hear all these stories about how veteran players give you the cold shoulder, thinking they brought you in to take their spot, but it was different when I got here. Fred came to me with open arms. He said, ‘I’m willing to teach you if you are willing to learn and listen,’ ’’ Jones-Drew said. “To hear one of the best players at the time, and still now, say something like that turned our relationship into what it is now.
“It was more off the field than on the field. He showed me the ropes around Jacksonville and obviously coming from Los Angeles with no money to Jacksonville, having a little bit of money he helped me with how to manage my money and with whom to talk. We talked about a lot of different things. When I didn’t have someone to cook for me at home when my parents weren’t out here, he would invite me over to his house to come eat and hang out with his family. Those things definitely opened my eyes to the man.
“A lot of people don’t know Fred because he is quiet, but he opened up with me and we talked about everything from football to life, money, to going back to school and graduating, to pretty much everything. He definitely put a big impact on my life.’’
This season, Jones-Drew is proving to have been worth the investment. He is tied with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 15 and is third with 1,246 yards.
Taylor said Jones-Drew got his vote for the Pro Bowl and he isn’t surprised to see him having such success.
“The thing is, there was just one thing that’s kept Maurice from doing the things he’s doing now, and that was myself splitting the carries,’’ Taylor said. “Now he’s getting the bulk of them. He’s getting the opportunity to go out there, to get rhythm. In order for you to feel like you’re on your A game, you want to have a couple rhythm plays in there, a couple back-to-back runs, or a run and a catch, or something just to get you going. He’s definitely doing the things he’s always been capable of doing.’’
In New England, Taylor has continued to share his experiences with the running back pack. Laurence Maroney leads the bunch in carries as Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis complete the rotation. Maroney said having Taylor involved has been beneficial for him.
“It’s always great to have that guy back,’’ Maroney said. “Even when he’s not playing, he’s playing because he’s always texting me before every game, ‘This is the way to run. Do this against this team.’ He’s always giving me his insight. So whether he’s there or not, he’s always with me because he’s always telling me, ‘Run physical. Run behind the pads, one cut and go get up field. [Against] this team, you’re going to break a lot of arm tackles.’ Everything he’s been teaching me the whole year, whether he’s with me or not, it’s always good to have him back on the sideline.
“He’s like my extra eyes. He can see things differently than what I can see on the field, so I can come to the sideline and be like, ‘Fred, what did you see?’ And he can make corrections on how to help me run better.’’
If the Patriots win tomorrow, they will clinch the AFC East. It’s about as far in advance as Taylor thinks when it comes to his career - but he said he may give himself another couple of years.
“Unfortunately, I hit a pretty big hurdle and I didn’t expect it, but throughout my career I’ve learned how to deal with this like nothing,’’ Taylor said. “I’m just trying to stay positive, trying not to be frustrated by it all. I’m still full-speed ahead. My goals are still in place. [I] definitely would love to play as long as I can - try and win a championship, as well as catch Jim Brown [in rushing yards].
“In regards to what people have said about my career, I think that’s a great accomplishment. So I’d like to continue playing. I don’t know what the future holds. Everything is in God’s hands, but I’m going to stay positive, keep grinding it out, like I always have and see what happens.’’
The Patriots had everyone present for practice for the second day in a row. Taylor, Nick Kaczur (shoulder), Stephen Neal (ankle), Ty Warren (ankle), and Vince Wilfork (foot) all had limited participation and are questionable for tomorrow.
Jarvis Green (knee) had limited participation but is listed as probable along with Sam Aiken (shoulder), Tully Banta-Cain (shoulder), Tom Brady (right shoulder/right finger/rib), Julian Edelman (forearm), Shawn Springs (knee), and Benjamin Watson (knee).
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.