Taylor keeps Jaguars on the run Backup sets team record after replacing Stewart

September 21, 1998|By Michael DiRocco | Michael DiRocco,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There he was, standing all alone in the back of the end zone, and Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor didn't know what to do.

Should he spike the ball? Or maybe toss it into the stands?

Or does he pull a Robert Brooks and leap into the stands?

But before he could make a decision, tight end Pete Mitchell thundered into him, jarring the ball loose in celebration of Taylor's 52-yard touchdown run on his first carry after subbing for starter James Stewart.

"I didn't know what to do," said Taylor, who rushed for a team-record 128 yards in the Jaguars' 24-10 victory at Alltel Stadium. "I kind of forgot [to spike the ball], then when I thought about it, I didn't want to let it go because I wanted to take it to the sideline. I was just lost."

Mitchell's bear hug solved the problem for him, and the Jaguars' tight end gathered the ball and handed it to Taylor. It was a symbolic gesture, because now the team is handing over the running game to the first-round pick out of Florida after Stewart sustained a serious knee injury the play before. Team officials did not release the extent of Stewart's injury, but it is expected that he will miss at least the next several weeks.

But if Taylor performs like yesterday -- he also caught a team-high nine passes for 85 yards to total 213 yards from scrimmage -- the team's running game won't miss Stewart.

"I saw some outstanding things from Fred," said Jaguars coach Tom Couglin, whose team has produced a 100-yard rusher in its first three games. "When Fred went into the game, we stayed with the [game] plan the way it was, and he went right out there and was able to do that and have a big night. That one run was a huge play."

Taylor said he knew he would play the remainder of the game when he saw Stewart being carried to the sideline with a knee injury after being twisted to the ground by linebacker Peter Boulware.

"James' injury didn't look so good when I looked over at him," Taylor said. "I just had to go in and step it up and run hard."

He did on his second play, taking a toss left before cutting back to the right and out-racing the defense to the end zone. Taylor knows the team is expecting similar results in Stewart's absence, and he said he is prepared. Since a so-so training camp and preseason, Taylor has been watching extra film in case he were thrust into this position.

"My coach made me a tape of all the runs I had," Taylor said. "A lot of people said I was hesitating, so I went back and worked on it and I'll make progress throughout the season.

"My coaches just told me to be patient. A lot of friends told me to be patient. My chance, it came today and I played as hard as I could."

Offensive guard Brian DeMarco said he has noticed a subtle change in Taylor, and added the team has complete confidence in him if Stewart's injury is serious enough to keep him out for an extended period.

"He did what we expected him to do, and that was run hard," DeMarco said. "He hit the holes hard and ran like a man on a mission. We expected a lot out of him and he answered.

"In preseason, he was a young guy. But he's getting more comfortable back there. He's picked up his mental game and is willing to step up. We need him, especially with James [Stewart] hurt."

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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