Taylor sharp in practice

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He was wearing number 28 but the guy inside that jersey didn't look anything like the Fred Taylor that struggled through last season.

If the first practice of mini-camp means anything, and most would say it doesn't, it at least pronounced Taylor light, tight and quicker on his feet than anyone has seen him in a long time. His hands even looked soft in passing drills.

Taylor had Jaguars scouts turning their heads and giving each other looks of satisfaction. That's how quick Taylor was in Friday morning's opening practice of mini-camp.

"What I saw from my first look at mini-camp, he looked good. Here we are at mini-camp and he's healthy. That's great," coach Jack Del Rio said of Taylor.

Healthy was never a way to describe Taylor at any time last year. He missed mini-camp, all of spring practices and most of training camp as he slowly recovered from an offseason knee surgery that was far more invasive than first reported. Taylor "limped" into the regular season and managed to gain 787 yards rushing, despite missing five games due to an ankle injury.

It wasn't last year's Taylor who flashed through drills this morning. This morning's Taylor was the Taylor of his youth.

"I feel good. I've been working out hard. I'm looking forward to having a good season," said Taylor, who was asked whether his knee is now fully recovered from last year's surgery. "Whatever it is, I'm going to get the job done," he said.

As quick as Taylor appeared to be on the practice field, second-round draft choice Maurice Drew was as quick or quicker. The two of them were standouts among the running backs.

"I'm probably the most competitive guy on this team. I've never backed down from any challenge. I want to help the guy. I want to be a Jaguar fan when I retire. James Stewart helped me when I came here," Taylor said.

Taylor became a controversial figure a month ago when he reported for the first day of offseason conditioning to announce he was leaving to do his conditioning work in south Florida. Whatever he's doing down there, it's working.

"They work you hard down there," Taylor said, referring to the "Perfect Competition" training outfit to which Taylor has submitted himself. "No eating after eight o'clock," he said.

"He's a man. He makes his own decisions. As a football coach, I want everyone here. That's what I asked but I respect his decision," Del Rio said.

"It's good to have a change of atmosphere. I'm getting a chance to spend more time with my family. I got a young kid," Taylor explained of his decision not to work-out with his teammates in Jacksonville.

Taylor and Drew weren't the only standout performers on Friday. First-round pick Marcedes Lewis caught everything thrown in his direction and second-year wide receiver Chad Owens picked right up where he left off last summer. Fifty percent of the passes caught in this morning's drills were caught by Owens.

"He's got some skill. He's got great quickness. We like him and we think he can compete at wide receiver," Del Rio said.

Owens starred as a wide receiver through spring and summer last year, but he was drafted to be a punt-returner and at that he failed. In week two, in Indianapolis, he had to be taken out of the game after being shaken by several bobbles and muffs.

Drew's reputation is that of a premier return man, so, Del Rio made a point of speaking to Owens after the Jaguars drafted Drew. Del Rio explained to Owens that he wasn't out of the team's plans and that he would be given a solid opportunity to win a wide receiver job.

"Last year it came down to he had to be our returner and he wasn't our returner. We face a different set of circumstances this year. He doesn't have to be our returner to be on the roster," Del Rio said of Owens, who was cut after week two and re-signed to the practice squad for the balance of the season.

With Jimmy Smith having retired on Thursday, the Jaguars are looking for young players to step up in the passing game. Nobody stepped up higher than Owens did on Friday morning. Ernest Wilford and Matt Jones ran with the first unit and Reggie Williams and Cortez Hankton lined up with the second team.

The Jaguars got an early scare when defensive tackle John Henderson sustained a left ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage in team drills. He spent the rest of the practice with a bag of ice on his ankle. Del Rio didn't expect the injury to be of a serious nature.

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