JACKSONVILLE – In 2018 offseason jaguars.com series featuring 11 former players talking about 11 current players, Pride of the Jaguars running back Fred Taylor talks with senior reporter/editor J.P. Shadrick about the Jaguars’ ’17 success, the team’s current running backs and the team as it moves forward …
Question: The Jags were five minutes away from the Super Bowl; compared to two, three, four years ago, that’s night and day. It seems like the Jags are back. Do you feel that way, and what’s your reaction to what happened last season?
Answer: My heart was with Jacksonville, and I truly believe the refs didn’t give them a fair shake (in the AFC Championship Game). I don’t want to sound like a crybaby, but that one hurt me more than us losing to the Titans (after the 1999 season) because I know what it’s all about. The guys walked away saying “next year, next year, we’ve got next year.” It’s not always that way. What they do have is a consistent front office who have done some good things; we’re drafting and building in free agency, establishing discipline and establishing an identity, and that’s what they had been lacking the years prior to them making that sort of run they made this past season.
Q: Let’s focus on Leonard Fournette. It may not be the best rookie season ever, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. It was a good start, right?
A: I thought he had a solid rookie year. I was hoping he would have broken my rookie [rushing] yardage marks because if he had done that, that only spells good things for the team. The first thing I told him after the Patriots game (AFC Championship Game) on the sideline was that next year is going to be a lot more exciting. His awareness is just going to increase and the game is going to slow down that much more. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say he rushes for at least 1,500 (yards) if they commit (to the run game) and if they play defense and allow the opportunistic style of defense to get the ball back to the offense. If those things add up, he’ll definitely rush for 1,500-plus.
Q: In talking with Fournette, do you feel like he has that work ethic and drive to be able to do it year after year – and do it 12 months a year?
A: Everybody is going to work. The key is maintaining yourself: taking care of your body, making sure you address the little things before they turn into big things and before they turn into nagging injuries. He has to make sure he pays attention and listens to his body, because he’s a big guy – a big, strong, powerful young man. He’s going to have those challenges where he’s going to have to make sure his flexibility is great, his core strength is great. Otherwise if he doesn’t pay attention to that sort of stuff, he's going to deal with sprains and all those other injuries that slow you down. I think he has good work habits, from what I’m hearing, talking to (running backs) Coach (Tyrone) Wheatley.
Q: Fournette can’t be the only guy at the running back position. Besides Fournette they do have some guys that can play roles at running back here...
A: T.J. Yeldon and Fournette have completely opposite running styles. What I think you’ll get from Yeldon is he can pass-protect as well; he has good lateral ability. He’s not a blazer, but he has gotten out there in the open field. He’s not the home run guy, but he has the ability to make some guys miss at the line of scrimmage and get the ball downfield. It’s a great complement to Leonard’s style; when guys on the defense are expecting punish-punish-punish, downhill, one-cut by Leonard, and now you have Yeldon who can jump-cut, get lateral and get back north without missing a beat. I love Corey Grant’s game. I think of all the running backs, Corey has the best vision of the group because he finds those lanes, and when he finds them he’s out of there. That’s hard to find: slow to the hole and explosive throughout. I think he’s going to earn himself some more opportunities. He continuously shows those glimpses of what he can do in the backfield. I think it’s a good group. I think they realize what they want their identity to be.
Q: This organization is in a pretty good spot right now: certainly with the ownership, with the football leadership, they’ve got the entire coaching staff back for another year, and the roster is among the best in the league. The window is open to be good right now, so do you think this can be sustained for a few years?
A: Consistency is the key. You have an owner in Shad Khan; he’s committed. He’s constantly having to answer those questions about the team being in Jacksonville. He’s committed to being in Jacksonville. We’ve seen it and I would just hope those questions would just go away and let him run the ship as they are doing. Bringing Coach [Tom] Coughlin back in there [as executive vice president of football operations] … it doesn’t get any more disciplined, straightforward, black-and-white than TC. They need that; the players respect that. This is a former coach who has two Super Bowl championships, so now it’s easier to buy in to what he’s selling. It wasn’t always like that around there. It was a lot of gray areas in Jacksonville for a long, long, long time. The thing to be a successful organization, you’ve got to have consistency. The coaching staff is intact – bingo. I’m not knocking (former Jaguars Head Coach) Jack (Del Rio), but we had a different culture at each position every single year to where people would say, “those (assistant coaches) are just Jack’s pawns, we know somebody is going to be out of there the next year.” That inconsistency disrupts the chemistry within the coaching staff and with the players and the coaches, because familiarity brings this trust factor that this guy is going to get it done. And then, just having your core group of players. When you look at the old Steelers, their defense would be eight guys that you remember from the previous year. That’s the consistency, and it allowed them to play faster, smarter – and they plug in one, two, three guys and they’re off. The success of the franchise moving forward, in my opinion, is that consistency factor. The Jaguars have an opportunity to create their consistency and be a team to reckon with in the AFC South and throughout the rest of the NFL as long as they keep that consistent mindset.
Q: Having Coughlin back is big…
A: Every single Jaguars fan that complained about Coach Coughlin before he was let go, I guarantee you all of them are saying, “Maybe that wasn’t such a great complaint by us.” He was always the same. We’re developing young men into men; the core is discipline. You might have a hiccup, but it’s always going to come back to that and eventually success will follow because of the discipline. That’s something that we (Taylor’s Jaguars teams) missed out on, some of that consistency. I think we will be a successful organization as long as consistency is the theme.
Q: We know what you do with us on the Jaguars Radio Network during the season and on the videoboards on home game days, but give us an idea of what life is like right now for Fred Taylor outside of the Jaguars.
A: Well, I can tell you this: I’m not retired. Everybody always asks me what it feels like to be retired – and if retirement feels the way this feels, then I will never, ever know what retirement feels like. I’ve got my boys; there’s never a dull moment with those guys. Every day is something new, something challenging. I wish I could get paid for tutor hours, because we’re doing homework every day. I have a small business that distributes industrial equipment. I’m an investor, so I’m always looking for opportunities that make sense because I was once burned throughout my career and not necessarily understanding deals that I was being a part of. I practice my discipline as well nowadays. I just don’t hop into things that I don’t absolutely love. I’m here just trying to continue to grow and learn business, grow and be a better dad, a better husband and also a better friend. I was always focused on my thing, and that was football, so I didn’t always answer the phone. I’m just working on being the best Freddy T that I can possibly be.