Taylor carrying the load in Minnesota
Chester Taylor was brought to Minnesota to be the featured back and he hasn't disappointed, writes Len Pasquarelli.
In fact, the other Minnesota running backs have combined for just 16 carries this season.
"They told me when I came here that I was going to be the guy," said Taylor, who spent the first four years of his career with the Baltimore Ravens, mostly as the caddie for Jamal Lewis. "They've kept up their end of the bargain. I'm just doing the best I can to keep up my end."
Taylor, 27, is exactly the kind of workhorse back that first-year head coach Brad Childress was seeking when he signed on with the Vikings. There is some irony in that, because Childress worked the past seven seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, who are often criticized for not running the ball enough. But Childress knew he wanted a pounder, a guy who could carry 25 times if necessary, and shorten the game.
In six starts, only two fewer than his career total entering the season, Taylor has carried 137 times, an average of 22.8 rushes per outing. At that rate, he will finish with 365 attempts. Only once this season has Taylor carried fewer than 20 times. Not bad for a tailback who never registered more than 160 rushes in his four years with the Ravens.
Barring an injury, Taylor is all but certain to establish a new career high for yards, too. He ran for 714 yards in 2004, but already has 590 yards and two touchdowns in 2006. That includes a 95-yard touchdown burst at Seattle last week, a long-distance jaunt on which Taylor displayed more speed than even some teammates felt he possessed.
He also leads the Vikings in receptions, with 21, for 137 yards.
"[The offense] pretty much revolves around him," center Matt Birk said. "And it's good to have a guy like that, someone you can depend on every week."
Minnesota has lacked a true, featured tailback since current ESPN college football analyst Robert Smith abruptly retired following the 2000 season. Since that time, the Vikings have had just one back, Michael Bennett in 2002, log more than 175 carries in a season. Since the start of the 2001 season, the leading ball carrier for Minnesota has averaged only 176 rushes.
Taylor will apparently surpass that total in the first half of the season. Asked last week if he planned to cut back on Taylor's workload, Childress insisted things will remain status quo.
"That's what those guys get paid for," Childress said. "Those guys condition for that. They train themselves mentally and physically for that. And I think [Taylor] is growing into that. I think we'd be remiss to start talking about cutting back anything."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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