Taylor's Time Is Now

Preseason games could push wide receiver Travis Taylor into a starting role with an aggressive offense, something he hasn't had in his career to this point. Taylor is drawing comparisons to another ex-Raven who had a breakout season with a new team in 2005.

This might be putting the cart so far ahead of the horse that the cart appears like only a dot to the steed, but Travis Taylor, not Troy Williamson, could be the player who most capably will fill the gaping hole in the offense left by the Randy Moss trade.

Yes, the Vikings haven't even played a preseason game yet — their preseason opener is Friday night against Kansas City. Yes, training camp is not even two weeks old yet. And, enough already, of course it's just one intrasquad scrimmage.

But last Friday, when Taylor made seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns, including the scrimmage winner on the final play, it brought to light what coach Mike Tice said he already knew when the Vikings signed the former Baltimore Ravens receiver.

Now, with just a month before the regular season, Taylor is pushing Marcus Robinson for the starting receiver spot opposite Nate Burleson. "To me right now they are in a heckuva battle," Tice said.

Taylor's best year as a pro was his third NFL season, in 2002, when he made 61 catches for 869 yards and six touchdowns. His production has declined the last two seasons. In 2003, he had 39 catches for 632 yards and three touchdowns; last season he had 34 catches for 421 yards and no touchdowns.

Supporters of Taylor's will aptly point out that never during his six-year career has he had a quarterback with the talents of Daunte Culpepper throwing to him. Not long after he signed with the Vikings he glowingly described the Vikings offensive system as being, "perfect for a receiver."

Vikings coaches have already issued top grades to Taylor during his first couple of weeks in camp. Prior to their arrival at camp, the Vikings earmarked Taylor as a possession receiver inside. That changed quickly.

"I think he's demonstrated that he can be an outside receiver and he can provide, at the wide receiver position, that versatility you want," Tice said. "I think he can play outside. He can play inside. And obviously, he can be very productive."

Receivers coach Wes Chandler compares Taylor's situation to Brandon Stokley's. In three-plus seasons with the Ravens, Stokley had 71 catches for 940 yards and eight touchdowns. In just one season with the Colts, he eclipsed his career marks with 68 catches for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The difference for Stokley? That's easy. Rather than being on the receiving end of passes thrown by Elvis Grbac, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman and Boller, Stokley was catching ball from future Hall of Famer and 2004 Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning.

"In Baltimore, Kyle (Boller) was a young quarterback," Taylor said. "The maturity of the quarterback position here is a big difference for me. It isn't what I'm used to and it's a great opportunity for me."

Taylor is excited about the Vikings' receiving corps. While he won't say it publicly, he hopes to be a major cushion that softens the blow of the loss of Moss.

"With Troy (Williamson) and Kelly (Campbell), Marcus, Nate and myself, I mean we can all run. We're all fast. We're big, quick and agile," Taylor said. "This is probably the best receiving corps I've ever been around."

Culpepper is excited about Taylor. It will be interesting to see Friday night and every preseason game if Taylor develops into Culpepper's favorite target.

"A pleasant surprise to a lot of people, but not to me because I saw him play in high school and college, (is) Travis Taylor, who is just a great player," Culpepper said. "He has a knack to make big plays. He's physical, he does everything you want in a receiver over the middle."

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