I hope that Fred Taylor doesnâ€™t read this and decide he, like Jimmy Smith, is underpaid. But the truth of the matter is that the Jaguars need Taylor more this season than they need Smith. Donâ€™t get me wrong, if there is to be the sort of resurgence that the owner, coach and quarterback have hinted at then both men have to be in uniform.
But remember that the Jaguars had Smith on the field last fall and they won only six games. The five-time pro bowl receiver caught 112 passes for 1,373 yards and 8 touchdowns and they lost ten games. Smith is like the afterburner on a fighter jet, but Taylor is the wings.
The Jaguars offense was grounded without number 28 on the field no matter how many times Smith came up with the ball. Ask Jimmy what his numbers would have been like if the safety wasnâ€™t always running alongside him instead of having to hover near the line of scrimmage for the threat of Fred. (Hint: they would have led the league and then he really would have a contract beef.) The Ravens knew that Stacy Mack wasnâ€™t going to beat them last October so instead of blitzing Mark Brunell to death like they have in every other game they dropped more into coverage and made the passing game more difficult. Every defensive coordinator had that in his game plan last fall.
Taylor is a threat to score every time he touches the football. Remember the 90-yard touchdown in the 1999 playoff game against the Dolphins? That was the fastest defense in football that season and Taylor made them look like a herd of elephants. How about the pass he caught in Baltimore in 1998 which he took 78-yards for a score that is still the team record. I call him the best 1-yard back in football, which he doesnâ€™t like hearing by the way. His opinion changed when I explained to him that heâ€™s the best 1-yard back because he can score from the 1-yard line going in or the 1-yard line coming out. Only Minnesotaâ€™s Randy Moss has the same freakish size to speed ratio that Taylor does and he is the only other guy I can name with the ability to reach the end-zone from anywhere on the field.
But Taylorâ€™s importance goes beyond helping a developing offensive line and giving Brunell enough time to find Smith. Taylor can chew up the clock which keeps the opponents defense on the field and the Jaguars off it. Letâ€™s face it; this defense isnâ€™t going to be ready to go on opening day. They have to replace three starting defensive linemen, two linebackers and Jason Craft will be a full time starter for the first time this fall. The talent may be there, but football isnâ€™t about talent alone it takes time for a team to come together. The Jaguars lost six games in the final two minutes last season by a total of 19 points. Itâ€™s not a coincidence that the Jaguars were dead last in time of possession in the AFC in 2001 and only Carolina and Arizona were worse in the league standings. The defense couldnâ€™t hold a lead because they couldnâ€™t catch their breath. Taylor is like one big oxygen tank on the sidelines.
The Jaguars could have more offensive talent on the field then in any other season. They have a stable of receivers, two tight ends, depth on the offensive line and at running back. Taylorâ€™s contribution will be the determining factor as to whether the Jaguars offense soars in 2002 or if it goes supersonic. I hate to put that much pressure on one manâ€™s shouldersâ€¦but itâ€™s the burden you bear when your talent is as great as Freds.