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Taylor making strides

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / August 21, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Running back Fred Taylor waited patiently on the sideline in last week’s preseason opener, but he never took the field for his first action as a Patriot.

He didn’t have to wait long last night.

Taylor started in the Patriots’ forgettable 7-6 loss to the Bengals, playing the first 17 snaps and then calling it a night. There were no breakaway touchdown runs or dazzling cutbacks, just a modest, productive beginning for a 33-year-old who still shows a bounce in his step and continues to adjust to a new team after 11 years in Jacksonville.

The Patriots’ plan was to come out with four receivers and Taylor in a single-back set, with the offense staying in that personnel grouping throughout its first drive, and ultimately turning it into a no-huddle attack.

For Taylor, that meant adjusting to the tempo that the Patriots like to play.

“It’s good in a live setting, game speed, tempo, just to hear the way Tom [Brady] calls it, just trying to get familiar with it,’’ said Taylor, who finished with seven carries for 26 yards (3.7-yard average) and added one reception for 12 yards.

“I can always do better, but it’s a start. I think that’s the best thing I can say about it, it’s a start, it’s good to go out there and get hit a little bit, get a few bumps and bruises and let your body get acclimated to that. I haven’t really hit the ground in a while.’’

Taylor’s first carry came on the Patriots’ first play, a pound-it-up-the-middle 5-yarder. His longest gain, a 10-yarder over left guard in the second quarter, came out of the more compact two-tight end package.

The best run? It might have been the 2-yarder on third and 1 during the opening drive. Taylor barreled over left tackle to keep the chains moving.

“It was a stretch play to the left and they had a little outside penetration, but when it’s third and short like that, you just want to have efficient runs, smart running,’’ he explained. “You just want to do everything in your will to get the first down. The big run, the touchdown, doesn’t matter at that point. You just want to keep the drive alive.’’

Taylor’s hard-nosed run advanced the ball to the Bengals’ 18, but things fizzled from there, leading to a Stephen Gostkowski 32-yard field goal. Taylor’s efficient run was one of the last Patriots highlights of the night.

From a scheme perspective, the Bengals countered with their nickel package (five defensive backs) against the Patriots’ four-wide package, which gave Taylor a preview of what he might see during the regular season.

“When you’re spread out, you can see what the defense is doing a little more, if they’re blitzing or going to play zone or man,’’ said Taylor, who at one point also split wide to the right as a receiver, something he hadn’t done in ages. “You have an opportunity to do some spread runs, short passes, long passes. I think it will be something we could benefit from.’’

The Patriots’ other running backs got a charge out of seeing Taylor doing his thing.

“Leadership, toughness, explosion, power, he brings it all, and he’s been doing it for 12 years,’’ said fellow veteran Kevin Faulk, who added that Taylor has impressed with his detailed note-taking in meetings, something he learned from coach Steve Spurrier at Florida. “He just wants to show everyone he can still do it. We all know he can still do it. We see it in practice. It was just about him getting out there and getting his opportunities.’’

“I was waiting for this day, to be able to play alongside of him,’’ added running back Laurence Maroney. “You do it in practice, but it was fun to see him do everything he’s been telling me and teaching me and to see that unfold live. He’ll tell me, ‘On contact, keep your legs moving, run with energy, one cut and go.’ They are all different things about going out and being a better running back and he showed me how to do it.’’

As he transitions to life as a Patriot, Taylor said one of his goals is to play faster. At this point, he’s happy with his progress.

“I felt like I made some pretty decent reads out there, but I want to make better reads. They’re going to do their best to block them up and I have to make the right cut,’’ he said.

“Even when it’s not blocked all the way, 100 percent, I have to make something happen. That’s the reason they brought me here. I can make things happen if something breaks down. That’s what I want to do going forward, but it was a good start.’’

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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