Rushing champ Taylor unlikely to see much -- if any -- preseason work

·4 min read

Aug. 12—WESTFIELD — Matt Ryan will play about one quarter when the Indianapolis Colts open the preseason Saturday at the Buffalo Bills.

Several other projected starters are expected to join the veteran quarterback on the field. But All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor isn't likely to be among them.

The 23-year-old led the NFL with 332 carries, 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2021. He's got nothing to prove in games that don't count and doesn't need to put any extra strain on his legs ahead of the regular season.

Of course, Taylor will be prepared if his number is unexpectedly called.

"You actually have to make sure that you stay ready," he said following Thursday's 80-minute practice at Grand Park. "One, you have to stay in the book. Two, make sure that your physical conditioning — whether it's lifting, whether it's running — making sure you're staying on top of all of those things just to make sure you're prepped and primed, ready to go."

Head coach Frank Reich acknowledged some starters won't play against the Bills.

Wide receiver Parris Campbell and safety Julian Blackmon have starred in training camp practices and will continue their comebacks from injury on the field in Buffalo. It's yet to be determined whether defensive tackle Tyquan Lewis, who also has looked strong this summer, will join them.

There will be a routine in place for any player — regardless of the reason — who is not expected to play on game day.

"That person might happen to get to the stadium a little bit earlier and do a little extra workout on game day," Reich said. "So we plan that out with (director of sports performance) Rusty (Jones) and (head strength and conditioning coach) Rich (Howell) and those players about how we are going to make sure they don't decondition at all over a three- or four-day span."

Thursday's practice was the final full session before the preseason opener. The team will go through a walkthrough Friday before flying to Buffalo, play the game Saturday and the players will get Sunday off.

Training camp resumes Monday at Grand Park with another walkthrough, and there will be a full practice Tuesday ahead of the Detroit Lions' arrival for joint practices next Wednesday and Thursday.

Taylor and any other starter potentially held out of the game against the Bills should get plenty of reps over the two practices with Detroit.

While he'll be open to whatever the coaches ask of him, Taylor points out he had no preseason games in college at Wisconsin. He still rushed for more than 6,000 yards over three seasons with the Badgers.

Likewise, Taylor did not have a carry in the preseason before his breakout 2021 campaign.

It's clear he understands how to get himself ready for live action without a lot of live reps.

Taylor would have led the league in rushing last year even if only his yards after contact were counted. He said preparing to break tackles without actually being tackled in the preseason is all about the mindset.

"I mean, every play is designed to score," Taylor said. "So you just have to make sure you do your part and say, 'Hey, when I get the ball, my part is to make this one guy miss and (it) should be a touchdown.'"

Left guard Quenton Nelson has blocked in front of Taylor for the last two years.

He's not surprised by the running back's success, and he's not about to make predictions about how Taylor can follow up his sensational season.

"He's such a ... another amazing guy (in the locker room), and then so talented, so strong and fast," Nelson said. "Just look at him. His biceps pop, and he's got the veins popping out. It's like, 'Holy smokes, who's gonna tackle that guy?'"

Very little is typical about Taylor.

His combination of size (5-foot-10, 226 pounds) and speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) is lethal, and he's intelligent enough to have been actively recruited by Harvard.

He's had a love of astrophysics since he was a child and fervently talked about the red moon being visible Thursday night and his plans to make certain he viewed it.

Taylor likely is one of the few men on Earth who would be equally comfortable in conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Emmitt Smith.

He was raised in Salem, New Jersey, with the belief he could accomplish anything he put his mind to.

But could even he imagine a season like the one he just completed? What did he see in last year's training camp as he prepared to dominate NFL defenses?

"I saw the championship," Taylor said. "You always prepare for a championship effort. If you don't — I don't think you worked hard enough in the offseason if you don't think that's the goal or the expectation."