J. Lewis is back, so Taylor backs up

Solid as featured back, patient Raven bides time

August 23, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis will make his first start of the preseason Friday, which means Chester Taylor has to take his accustomed step out of the spotlight.

It doesn't matter that Taylor worked with the first team all offseason. It doesn't matter that Taylor has been the one positive on offense this preseason.

As in the previous three seasons, Taylor knows he only starts when Lewis can't.

"Everybody that plays football wants to be a starter," Taylor said. "But ever since I started football, I have shown good patience. I'm going to do what my team asks me to do. I know my time will come. I'm not worried about it."

His time nearly came five months ago, when the Cleveland Browns signed Taylor, a restricted free agent, to a one-year, $3 million offer sheet. The Browns were going to give Taylor the opportunity to compete for a starting job.

But the Ravens retained him by matching the steep price for a backup. Although Taylor admitted thinking about what might have been at the time of the offer, he said he has since moved forward.

Taylor said the situation doesn't frustrate him. The Ravens said they haven't sensed any disappointment.

To avoid any such problem, the coaching staff has told Taylor to remember another former backup for the Ravens.

"I kind of use Priest Holmes as a guide marker for him," running backs coach Matt Simon said. "Priest left us after winning a championship and was able to move on to other things. Our goal was to put him in a position where he could create an opportunity for himself at the other end, whether it's the Ravens or another organization."

If the preseason was an audition, he has fared well. Taylor, 25, has rushed for 102 yards in three quarters, accounting for 44 percent of the starters' total offense in the first two games.

The performance was reminiscent of last season, when Taylor showed he had the durability of a starter. In six games when he was the primary back, he averaged 84 yards rushing including two 100-yard efforts.

"In my mind, I wanted to prove to myself if I could handle the load," Taylor said. "Luckily, I did."

Taylor still will have some carries with the first team this week because the Ravens won't expose Lewis to many hits in the final two preseason games. Lewis, who is not fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery, likely will play about a dozen snaps.

The Ravens had intended to play Lewis last week before deciding to sit him a day before the game.

"There was tenderness, which was to be expected," coach Brian Billick said. "There was some soreness. We decided collectively, with [trainer] Bill Tessendorf, myself and Jamal, that we should give it one more week."

The injury situation of their running backs is why the Ravens made such an investment in Taylor, who will receive about $200,000 less than what Lewis is expected to earn this season ($3.2 million).

Lewis had surgery just before he started his four-month sentence in federal prison. Musa Smith, the No. 3 back, is expected to remain on the physically-unable-to-perform list into the regular season as he continues to come back from a broken leg.

So keeping Taylor, the only healthy, experienced back on the depth chart, was deemed a necessity.

"I made my feelings strongly known to Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] that he was worth every penny," Simon said. "We knew he had great value to us."

The Ravens want to expand the roles of both Lewis and Taylor.

Too often last season, the Ravens ran when Lewis was in the backfield and passed when Taylor was on the field.

There will be an emphasis to get Lewis more involved in the passing game and get Taylor more carries in the running attack.

"What it means for defenses is we'll be less predictable," Simon said. "I think that is really the key. Chester was more of a nickel back on offense last year. This year, that's not going to be the case."

But another solid season for Taylor could signal his exit from the Ravens at the end of year.

"If he can physically hold up for a season, he can help us win," Simon said. "We hope it's always the Ravens. But there may be other teams out there, and we understand that."

Running with starters

Backup Chester Taylor has made the most out of his time with the starting offense this preseason:

Taylor Starting off.

Date Att.-yds Plays-yds.

8/13 8-55 20-118

8/20 15-47 35-112

Tot. 3-102 55-230

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