Saluting Two Gator Runners
Fred Taylor --- The veteran running back is putting together another fine season for Jacksonville and is bidding for his first invitation to the Pro Bowl. Taylor has run for 1,091 yards and four touchdowns despite sharing playing time with second year back Maurice Jones-Drew (746, 8 TD). This season is Taylor's seventh 1,000-plus yard season which has propelled him to over 10,000 rushing yards in his 10-year NFL career. Taylor will turn 32 in January and you have to wonder how much longer he'll be racking up big numbers, but he's about two or three strong seasons from legitimate Hall of Fame consideration. Taylor has helped Jacksonville to 10 wins in the first 14 games and the Jags are likely headed to the playoffs, which should also help his Pro Bowl candidacy.
Earnest Graham --- Graham is built more like a Division 1-AA fullback (5-8, 225) but his running has in many ways saved Tampa Bay's season. The Bucs lost Carnell "Cadillac" Williams in the fourth week of the season, but to that point he had not done much anyway. Michael Pittman and Michael Bennett proved to be the journeymen they've always been and the Bucs were desperate. So desperate they look at the fourth-year back out of Florida and said (in essence), "go on in Graham, how much worse can you be?" Obviously they didn't think much of Graham as a runner, giving him just 52 carries in three years, but he made himself invaluable to Tampa Bay on special teams so they kept him around.
Graham has been a revelation for the Bucs, running for 877 yards and 10 touchdowns for the NFC South Champs. The 10 touchdowns are tied for tops among NFC runners, and Sunday against Atlanta he set a franchise record by running for a touchdown in his sixth consecutive game.
Whenever I think of Fred Taylor, I think back to that amazing game in 1997 against Florida State when Taylor scored four touchdowns against the No. 1 defense (and team) in the nation. With Graham, I think about that 2001 season when the Gators virtually dominated every opponent, except the two games Graham missed (Auburn, Tennessee).
Taylor and Graham are two runners who starred at Florida and are now enjoying starring roles on NFL playoff-bound teams in their home state.
That's a good year.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
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