Running back Chester Taylor has never had the opportunity to be a full-time featured back in the NFL. That's what happens playing behind one of the most productive backs (Jamal Lewis) for four years in one of the league's most run-oriented offenses in Baltimore.
But at his first chance to experience unrestricted free agency, Taylor was courted quickly and certainly by the Minnesota Vikings. The two joined in their professional relationship on the first day of free agency.
"I believe we made a great choice in Minnesota," Taylor said at the Vikings' first minicamp. "They brought me in here to run the ball, and hopefully we can do that this year and build on that because you can't win games without running the football."
I want to see how it is with the pads on, but right now the offensive line is looking pretty good. And the fullback as well – we've got (Tony) Richardson, so that's just another piece of the puzzle."
Taylor will get a little more complete look at the offense this weekend as the Vikings take the practice field for another three-day stretch of practices. Although Friday through Monday's five practices won't be in full pads, it will be a chance for the veterans to revisit what they learned in April's camp, add to it and be joined by more than 20 new rookies.
"I was real anxious to see how the whole offense was going to work, working 11-on-11 and going against the defense. Instead of being in the classroom, I like going on the field and doing it," Taylor said.
The way it will work is having a strong left side of the offensive line with tackle Bryant McKinnie and Pro Bowlers Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk next to him. The right side of the line got a little more experienced on draft day when the Vikings traded for four-year pro Artis Hicks, who will be making his full-team practice debut at right guard after starting 31 games in the last three years in Philadelphia.
With the addition of Richardson and the remade offensive line, it does appear the Vikings are ready to run the ball, and Taylor is ready to prove he can be the featured back doing the work.
"The majority of the time in Baltimore I was asked to play third downs, so that's like catching and blocking as well," Taylor said. "My role here is running and then adding on to that."
In Baltimore, Taylor never had more than four starts in a season and started only eight games in four years, but the highest rushing average of his career came in 2004, when he also had the most opportunity. It was then that he made four starts, rushed 160 times for a 4.5-yard average. Those numbers are just slightly better than what Mewelde Moore did last year in Minnesota, averaging 4.3 yards per carry as the Vikings' most-used running back.
As a team, the Vikings struggled to run the ball consistently, and they seem set on having a new running back assume a role he's never really had.
"Chester is a bigger running back and low-mileage back," head coach Brad Childress said upon Taylor's signing. "He's worked behind Jamal Lewis, but I have a very distinct recollection of him. He's a guy who can touch the ball 20 to 30 times a game and I think he gets better as he gets warmed up with each carry. He has great hands and is a good runner between the tackles who still has good enough speed to circle the defense."
It will be a watershed year for Taylor. While others will be looking to see how he performs in his first opportunity to be "the man," he says he only has to prove his durability to himself.
"I don't have to prove it to anybody. I just want to prove it to myself that I'm durable and I can do it. Only I know how much I can stand and how many carries I can do. I'm going to work hard this offseason to carry a lot of the load this year."
That offseason maturation continues this weekend.
Taylor in the Spotlight
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