Taylor is in a rush to help
Veteran will be there for Maroney
Eventually, Fred Taylor will offer Laurence Maroney whatever advice he has. He’ll see the difference between a small gain and a long run, and make sure Maroney sees it, too. He’ll see something Maroney might be able to do differently, and tell him. He’ll have something stored on the mental notepad he’s kept over the last 11 years, he’ll wait for the right time, and then he’ll share it.
It’s what a veteran does, regardless of the circumstances.
Taylor came into the NFL in 1998, in a situation similar to Maroney’s when the Patriots selected him with their first-round pick in 2006. James Stewart had been Jacksonville’s feature back for three years, but Taylor was their first-round pick. Stewart was in a contract year, Taylor had signed a six-year, $10.7 million deal. Stewart saw the writing on the wall - Taylor was the stud from the University of Florida brought in to move Stewart out. But it didn’t stop Stewart from being a mentor.
“Both of us are going to be playing, so why not help him?’’ Stewart said at the time. “You can’t go in and be bitter about things, worrying about this and that.’’
When Maroney was drafted, Corey Dillon was his James Stewart. On draft day, as soon as the Patriots picked Maroney, they called Dillon to make sure he didn’t get the wrong message. They didn’t need to.
Dillon said, “What kind of person would I be, I have all this knowledge and this experience in this league, and not share it? I’d be a [jerk], and I don’t want to be a [jerk], so why not share it?’’
The Patriots used a two-back system in 2006 for the first time in Bill Belichick’s tenure as coach, and Maroney thrived, carrying the ball 175 times for 745 yards and six touchdowns.
The Patriots signed Taylor in February, banking on the idea that some of the speed and elusiveness that highlighted a career also dotted with injuries would still be there at 33. But a residual benefit of that age is the experience he’ll be able to pass along, potentially to Maroney.
The Patriots opened training camp yesterday, and Taylor continues to be pragmatic about his two-year, $5 million contract. (“We’re in a recession. I have a job, so it feels great,’’ he said.) But knowing firsthand the impact a veteran can have on a younger player, Taylor acknowledged the role he could ultimately play for Maroney.
“You just take him in, you nurture him, and you do the best you can with him,’’ Taylor said. “That’s the way Stew was with me. He has to take what he can take and use it the best way he can. If I see a play where he can maybe cheat the play or attempt to cheat the play to try and make a big play out of it, I’ll speak to him about it. If I see something that maybe he should try a different way, I’ll mention that. If I can be helpful in any way, I’ll try my best.’’
From the way they both entered the league, to the injuries that set them back early in their careers, Taylor said Maroney “reminds me of myself a little bit when I was younger.’’
In three years with the Patriots, Maroney has suffered torn rib cartilage in 2006, a groin injury in 2007, and a broken shoulder that ended what looked like a promising 2008 season after only three weeks.
“He’s a young guy who’s definitely passionate about playing,’’ Taylor said. “He’s had to fight through the injuries, but that’s a part of the game. But he’s definitely fighting.
“He’s trying to go out there and make a name for himself. He’s a good running back, he’s a very good running back. Just unfortunately, he’s had to endure through the bumps and bruises. If he keeps fighting back, he’ll be OK.’’
Taylor’s been there. From 1999 to 2001, he missed 23 games of 48 games. His durability became a running joke. He was “Fragile Fred.’’
“I never really worried about the naysayers,’’ Taylor said. “I kind of used it as motivation. When I went behind closed doors I’d work out a little harder, thinking that they called me Fragile Fred. I knew I was never fragile. I just had a little misfortune.’’
Having Taylor and Maroney in the backfield competing with Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk,and BenJarvus Green-Ellis offers the Patriots flexibility for a running game that averaged 142.4 yards per game last year.
“We feel like we have a good competition in the backfield,’’ Belichick said. “Those guys have all really proven themselves. Fred, of course, has had a great career. Laurence has done a lot of great things for us . . . So I like the players that we have in the backfield. Put them out there and let them compete and let them play and I would think we’d be able to get production from all of them, because that’s what they’ve done in the past.’’
Faulk, who has known Taylor since high school when he stayed with Taylor on a recruiting trip, welcomed his addition.
“Knowing what he’s about, a proven winner, just to have him in the meeting room and the knowledge that he has of the game is great for me, Laurence, Sammy, and all of us,’’ said Faulk.
Having that depth is a luxury, said receiver Wes Welker, but “to have Laurence back in there adding to that factor is definitely a plus for us.’’
Seeing the potential in a possible tandem with Maroney, Taylor recognized that he could be to Maroney what Dillon was three years ago, and what Stewart was for him more than a decade ago.
“I’ve been around for a while,’’ Taylor said. “I’ve seen a lot. And only through my experiences is when I speak. I don’t want to mislead anyone, but if I see someone slacking or not doing the right things, I’ll kind of pull them to the side and say, hey, I don’t think that will be for the better of the team. I try not to overstep my boundaries.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.