Jack Del Rio liked what he saw in Fred Taylor, but that doesn't mean the Jaguars have lost interest in trading for Buffalo running back Travis Henry.
"I was very encouraged; the fact that he's gaining strength and he's able to do the cutting and the acceleration he's going to have to do to be Fred," Del Rio said of his evaluation of Taylor's workout this past Monday.
Del Rio's family vacation in the Florida panhandle was cut short by Hurricane Dennis, but the Jaguars coach's spirits were buoyed by Taylor's workout. Taylor underwent knee surgery in January that forced him to miss all of the spring workouts while he rehabilitated the knee.
When spring practices ended on June 22, Del Rio told reporters he would observe Taylor in July before the start of training camp to determine what Taylor's availability would be for camp. Following Monday's audition, Del Rio has put together a plan for Taylor's training camp participation.
"My thought is he'll be on the field for the first shorts practice. We'll open camp with Fred but we'll practice him once a day and it'll be in shorts. We'll monitor him during that first week. We want to see his strength continue to improve. The big thing for Fred is to continue to increase the strength in that leg. He won't take part in the scrimmage but, leading up to the (preseason) game against Miami, we'd like to work him into the padded practices," Del Rio said.
"(Assistant trainer) Joe Sheehan has done a great job with the rehab and Fred has worked his butt off. I was very encouraged with where he is three weeks before camp; actually, two weeks now," Del Rio added.
Asked if his expectations are for Taylor to be in uniform for the regular-season opener, Del Rio replied affirmatively.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars are attempting to trade for Henry and news along those lines would seem to be imminent.
"The fact that we have an opportunity to acquire a running back of this kind of talent is something we have to look at, so we're looking at it. This may or may not happen, but we're protecting our interests and any time we think we can acquire somebody who can help us we're going to do that. It looks like it's coming to a head in the next few days or week," Del Rio said.
Henry rushed for 1,438 yards in 2002 and for 1,356 yards in '03. He had a 4.1 yards-per-carry rushing average through the first three years of his career, scored 23 touchdowns rushing in '02 and '03 combined and added 71 pass receptions in those two seasons. At 5-9, 215, Henry is a small pounder. He's a rugged inside runner who might be a perfect complement to Taylor. Henry is good in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He's a tough guy who left a game against Houston in '03 with a cracked fibula, then returned in the second half to rush 10 more times and complete a 149-yard day.
Best of all, Henry is 26 years old and in the prime of his career. Trading for the former Pro-Bowler shouldn't be considered a stop-gap move.
He missed much of last season due to foot and leg injuries, gaining 326 yards on 94 carries, by far the lowest totals of his career. The Bills, of course, are set on making 2003 first-round pick Willis McGahee their feature running back and Henry has said he wants to play where he can be the team's number one runner.
"We like all of our guys. We think LaBrandon Toefield can be a very good player. The thing that makes Henry attractive is he's proved he can do it. He's done it and he has a proven track record. We think LaBrandon can step in. If we don't land Travis, LaBrandon will be asked to do that. And Fu. And the forgotten guy is Greg Jones. He's the hammer. We feel like that's a good group, but any time you have a chance to add somebody at a modest price, you have to look at it," Del Rio added.
Tennessee and Seattle are thought to be the other two teams interested in Henry. Working against the Jaguars is the probability Buffalo would prefer to deal Henry to a team that would make the trade risk-free. Seattle, of course, would be that team, since the Seahawks are in the NFC. By trading Henry within the AFC to the Titans or Jaguars, the Bills would be risking the possibility of strengthening teams against whom the Bills would have to compete for a wild-card spot. The Jaguars, it's thought, might represent the greatest threat to the Bills.
Expectations are it'll take a third-round pick to do the deal, but no team has yet to step up with a clean third-round offer. Seattle star running back Shaun Alexander is angry about being "franchised" and it's thought the Seahawks will attempt to sign Alexander to a new deal after July 15, when a team may sign a "franchise player" to a new contract and reclaim use of the "franchise" designation. Seattle's talk of trading for Henry may be a negotiations ploy.
The Jaguars are to report for the start of training camp on July 29.