Taylor excels with straightforward approach

WESTMINSTER -- Chester Taylor doesn't complicate football, or his life.<br><br> And the Baltimore Ravens running back's straightforward approach typically pays dividends. <br><br> Enough so that Taylor has built a reputation as a reliable third-down fixture and perhaps as a potential alternative to Jamal Lewis should the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year become unavailable either because of an injury or his pending trial.

"I just try to run hard and get as many yards as I can and move the football every time I'm in there," said Taylor, a sixth-round draft pick in 2002 from Toledo. "I get more and more comfortable each year. If there's any hole to run through, I'm going to take it for the most I can get."

The softspoken Taylor was the Ravens' most productive runner in a 24-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons to open the preseason Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

He rushed for a game-high 47 yards on seven attempts, including a long run of 14 yards to the Falcons' 19 to set up a Kyle Boller touchdown pass.

"He ran very hard," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Taylor. "He looked good and showed an understanding of the running attack."

Taylor rushed for a career-high 276 yards on 63 attempts for two touchdowns last season. He caught 20 passes for 132 yards.

And Taylor returned 23 kickoffs for 448 yards, a 19.5 average.

"I think Chester has done what we've come to expect from him," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "He's a hard runner who can get the tough yards and has good cutting ability. He's a good pass-catcher and he's solid in protection.

"We think of him as an all-around back. He's got good running skills, good instincts and he understands the game pretty well."

At 5-foot-11, 213 pounds, Taylor represents a compact, change of pace to Lewis (5-11, 240 pounds) and last year's third-round pick Musa Smith (6-0, 232 pounds).

Taylor has drawn high marks for his versatility and quickness from the coaching staff.

And it's a strong possibility that Taylor would share the workload with Smith if Lewis misses any time as a result of his federal drug conspiracy trial that's set to begin Nov. 1 in Atlanta.

"I would think, to some degree, that you obviously would want someone to establish himself, but that's going to be tough to figure out until the time comes," Cavanaugh said. "If one guy establishes himself, he'll be on the field more. If not, we'll have to do it by committee."

Smith rushed for 26 yards on 14 attempts, a 1.9 average, with a long run of eight yards against the Falcons.

"Musa is a damn good back," Cavanaugh said. "I've got a lot of confidence in both those guys."

A Michigan native, Taylor was the first running back drafted from Toledo since 1971 after rushing for 1,492 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior.

Taylor's career-high for carries in a regular-season game is 10 last season against the Arizona Cardinals, when he gained 45 yards.

He rushed for a career-high 47 yards on five carries against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Each year, I learn something new," Taylor said. "I think I'm stronger now as far as breaking tackles and I'm catching the ball better and running better routes."

Taylor said he'll be ready for whatever comes, and he mainly hopes to continue in his designated role as the backfield's solution to a variety of situations.

"I don't know how it's going to be for us and Jamal," Taylor said. "I'm just waiting for an opportunity. Whenever my name is called, I just have to step up."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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