Jaguars running backs coach Anthony Lynn says nothing is wrong with Fred Taylor. Lynn says Taylor is running harder than ever and is playing better than he did a year ago when he rushed for a career-high 1,572 yards.
"I don't think he's playing poorly at all," Lynn said of his star running back.
So why hasn't Taylor hit the 100-yard mark in a game this season? Why has Taylor only rushed for 394 yards through six games this season?
"It's kind of like last year. We're getting off to a little bit of a slow start, but we're right on track. When you play with a lead, you run the ball more," Lynn said.
The fact that the Jaguars have played from behind in four of their six games this season has resulted in Taylor not getting the number of carries he did on a weekly basis in the second half of last season. He has reached the 20-carries mark only once this season and has sunk as low as 11 carries in the loss to San Diego.
Taylor's yards-per-carry average is right where it was a year ago, 3.9, but his 101 carries is significantly behind runners such as Curtis Martin, who leads the league in rushing with 613 yards on 132 carries. Taylor is the AFC's 11th-leading rusher and only one of the 10 backs ahead of him has fewer rushing attempts. Martin's attempts, by the way, are for just five games.
The bottom line is the Jaguars just haven't found their stride in the running game. The offensive line was without tight end Kyle Brady for the first five games, it lost left tackle Mike Pearson for the season in the fourth game of the year and left guard Vince Manuwai has been nagged by calf and knee injuries.
Taylor rushed for only 583 yards through the first eight games of last season and had hit the 100-yard mark only once. Then Taylor caught fire, rushing for 989 yards in the final eight games. He was over 20 carries a game in six of those games and was over 30 carries twice.
"We came together as a group in the running game. Things began to gel up front and he began to trust the people up front," Lynn said of Taylor's performance in the second half of last season.
Taylor has long been a lightning rod of sorts for fan criticism. He was rudely dubbed "Fragile Fred" by fans who took exception to the rash of injuries Taylor sustained early in his career. Now, in light of this year's slow start, the rap is that Taylor isn't running hard, that he's running tentatively, and Lynn takes exception to those comments.
"I think he's running harder now than he did last year. He's running with his pads down. I see him being more consistent this year than he was last year. I had a back last year who wanted to bounce (to the outside) a lot. He was more of a jitterbug last year. I don't see that as much this year. I see a more consistent back and I like that," Lynn said.
The plan is for Taylor to follow last year's script. If that is to occur, Taylor is nearing the point in the season when he'll begin posting the numbers that were expected of him when the season began.
"When this thing comes together, he's just going to take off. It's the boost we're going to need," Lynn said.
"We want to run the football and we will continue to give him the ball," head coach Jack Del Rio said of Taylor. "It's not about whether Fred gets a hundred yards, it's about whether we win the game."
The Jaguars have shown an ability to win without Taylor reaching the 100-yard mark, but it would sure help the Jaguars' cause this Sunday in Indianapolis if Taylor had a big game. A ball-control running game would help the Jaguars maintain a time-of-possession advantage that would reduce Peyton Manning's field time. It was the formula the Jaguars used to upset the Colts a year ago, in a 152-yard rushing performance by Taylor that was the turning point in his and the Jaguars' season.
"I have to keep him within the system; keep him focused," Lynn said. "He does tend to blame himself. He carries the running game on his shoulders."
In other news, quarterback Byron Leftwich, who is listed as "questionable" on the Jaguars' injury report, was expected to be a full participant in Thursday's practice. Leftwich reported that his sprained right ankle is improving and "I plan to be 100 percent by Sunday."
Del Rio said all of his players would participate in today's practice.
The coach was asked if the team had any interest in defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, who was released by the Miami Dolphins yesterday, and Del Rio said, "No."