PRO BOWL 2008
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jacksonville's Fred Taylor will get a special tour of Hawaii from teammate Vince Manuwai.
Tougher Taylor in rookie role
They don't call him Fragile Freddy anymore. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor dropped that label several years ago, along with his reputation for being injured.
In 2001, he missed all but two games with a groin tear, capping a span where he missed 23 of 48 games. Many questioned his toughness.
Taylor responded by simply developing into one of the most consistent running backs in NFL history, amassing a body of work that is a testament to durability. Last season he became the 21st player in league annals to go over 10,000 yards rushing in a career. Despite seven years in which he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, this is Taylor's first Pro Bowl after 10 years as a pro, all with the Jaguars.
Four other Pro Bowl rookies in Sunday's game are at least 10-year vets: Redskins long snapper Ethan Albright (13 seasons), Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel (11), Cowboys linebacker Greg Ellis (10) and Packers cornerback Al Harris (10).
"The average career span of an NFL player is about 2 1/2 years, even less for a running back, because we take a pounding," Taylor said after AFC practice yesterday. "But I think the way you judge a running back is by his toughness. I was considered fragile early in my career. But I never felt that way, and I've proven I'm not. I had a whole lot of injuries, and bouncing through those, I think my character showed -- based on persistence and the will and desire to play."
Taylor agreed that missing all those games early in his career helps allow him to perform at the level he does now at age 32. He rushed for 1,202 yards in 2007.
"I definitely believe God does everything for a reason. Having those early injuries, it taught me how to become a better person as I became a better pro. There's an order you have to do things in," Taylor said. "Right now speaking through my experience, I get to share that with my younger teammates, like Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, telling them you have to take care of your body, because it will take care of you."
Taylor credits a lot of his 10,715 career yards and 61 touchdowns to players from Hawaii: Jaguars guards Vince Manuwai and Chris Naeole (out last season with an injury). Former UH tackle Wayne Hunter was there for a while, too.
"Those guys, great people, great spirit," Taylor said of his guard tandem. "They definitely won't let anything happen to me. Before the play, during the play, after the play."
Manuwai, whom Taylor refers to as "Vinny" and "Braddah," prepped the Florida-born and -raised Taylor for his trip to Hawaii.
"I'm going to catch up with Vinny today," he said. "He's going to take me some place where I can really get a feel for the island. Not the commercial things that the other guys are going to get."
Taylor played on the Florida national championship team of 1996. The Gators host Manuwai's Hawaii Warriors in the season opener Aug. 30.
"He mentioned that. Our last showing wasn't good. We'll be in camp, beat up and sore. But I'm pretty sure we'll put something friendly on it," Taylor said.
How much longer will Fred Taylor play in the NFL?
" 'Til the wheels fall off, or if God calls me and takes the fire away. I want to play 'til the wheels fall off," he said.