- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- "Old Pops" made his way to the sideline after another New England Patriots training camp practice Wednesday and fittingly said his time was short. He had a chiropractor to see.
This is how it often works for 34-year-old Fred Taylor, who grinds out yards and then puts his body into the shop for maintenance.
Taylor had just finished his 22nd straight practice of training camp when he reported that his previously injured right ankle, which sidelined him for 10 games last season, has not been an issue.
"It hasn't flared up on me," Taylor said. "You get soreness just like anything else in two-a-days because of the consecutive pounding, but it's not anything different than a regular body part."
Quietly, Taylor has been one of the surprise stories of training camp.
When veterans reported July 28, his hold on a roster spot hardly seemed like a sure thing -- in part because of his age, his recovery from torn ankle ligaments, his $2 million base salary, other running back options on the roster and his limited contributions on special teams.
Then on the third day of camp, when the Patriots announced there would be an unexpected news conference for a player retirement, some wondered whether it might be Taylor. The speculation swirled to the level that Taylor's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, emphatically stated on Twitter that Taylor had no plans to retire.
It turned out to be David Patten who retired, as Taylor was in the early stages of putting together a strong string of practices that helped him rise to the head of the team's running back class. In recent days, Taylor has been the first running back to take repetitions in drills, and thus, it wouldn't be surprising if he's the first running back with the ball in his hands in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET).
When running backs coach Ivan Fears was asked this week whether he still sees a spring in Taylor's step, he didn't hesitate with the response.
"He still has the speed. He looks pretty good to me right now," Fears said. "I think Old Pops still has it."
Taylor laughed when told of the "Old Pops" reference and said he appreciated Fears' compliments. Like Fears, he still believes he has something to offer.
"When your body starts talking to you, I think that's when you should definitely shut it down. You don't want to be one of those guys who don't know when to call it quits, because then you're out there making a mockery of yourself," he said. "I don't want to be that guy, but I do want to give the game what I can give it."
What might Taylor realistically give the Patriots this season?
At this stage of his career, his bell-cow days are obviously over. There won't be another 2003-like season, in which he had 345 carries for 1,572 yards, both career highs, for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But with the Patriots once again primed to go with the committee approach -- splitting carries among Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk -- it seems logical to think that Taylor could be an effective leader of the charge, getting anywhere from 10 to 15 carries per game. For that plan to come to life, Taylor knows he must stay healthy, which has been a knock on him at times over his 13-year career.
He admits there are times when he feels all 34 years of his age. But there are still other times when he feels 24 again.
"I have my days," Taylor said. "For the most part, it's all about maintenance work -- massage, chiropractor, eating properly -- and you just go.
"I think it's about seeing an opportunity and then taking advantage of it. People judge you on your age, and this and that, but I think you just have to be ready to play. You throw that out and whatever your motivation is, you stick to that, develop a routine and just keep on going."
In a Patriots training camp that has been highlighted by new faces -- many of them within their first two years in the NFL -- Taylor represents the opposite end of the spectrum.
He's "Old Pops," and he's jumped to the head of the running back pack.