A year ago in the Vikings' preseason opener against Oakland, Chester Taylor carried the ball nine times and gained 18 yards. That amount of work did not come as a surprise. The running back had signed a four-year, $14.1 million free-agent contract during the offseason, and that game gave the Vikings a good opportunity to get a look at their investment.
There would be plenty of other chances to see Taylor in action. He played in 15 regular-season games, established a franchise record for rushing attempts (303) and had the fourth-best single-season rushing total in team history (1,216 yards). All of this left coach Brad Childress very aware of what Taylor can do and seems to have altered the team's approach to how much playing time he will get before the Sept. 9 opener against Atlanta.
Early in the Vikings' 13-10 loss to St. Louis last Friday, Taylor trotted on the field with the other starters for the Vikings' opening offensive series. He lost 4 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Four plays later, he caught a pass from Tarvaris Jackson for a 1-yard gain. That was pretty much it for the six-year veteran.
First-round pick Adrian Peterson was at running back on the Vikings' next series. He played into the second half and carried the ball a game-high 11 times for 33 yards.
"It's the coaches' choice how much I get to play, so I just do what they tell me," said Taylor, who spent his first four seasons serving as Jamal Lewis' backup with Baltimore. "They rested me a lot more this year."
It remains to be seen how Taylor and Peterson will split playing time. There will be occasions when they are on the field together, but given Taylor's heavy workload in 2006, it doesn't come as a surprise that Childress wants to pull back a bit in August.
Sitting Taylor also gives the Vikings an opportunity to see Peterson run behind the No. 1 offensive line. "We wanted to get him a chance behind the [starters]," Childress said of Peterson. "He needed some of that work. It worked out good that way. We could have very easily not played Chester at all, but he wanted to."
Childress said first-team players will be on the field in the first half tonight against the New York Jets in the Vikings' second preseason game. But that is subject to change on a position-by-position basis. Jackson, for instance, will play the first quarter and Brooks Bollinger will play in the second quarter. Asked how much time Taylor will get, Childress would only say, "we'll get him some."
In the second and third preseason games last year, Taylor had 10 carries in each game. It seems unlikely that will happen again. Taylor helped set himself up for a lighter workload this summer by reporting to camp in excellent shape.
"He's in better condition, he understands the system," running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. "He's had one year under his belt. For him not to play in the first preseason game really wasn't an issue or a concern."
Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell acknowledged there are a few factors to weigh when deciding how much work a player needs.
"I think it's different for everyone. What they feel," Bevell said. "You do want to get him a couple carries. You do want to be able to get him hit, get him used to that. But obviously you don't want to overuse him and you definitely don't want to get him hurt. So there is that fine line that you're trying to balance."
Bevell also points out Taylor is getting numerous reps on a daily basis in practice and many of them come against members of a defense that finished atop the NFL in stopping the run last season.
Electing to rest a running back in preseason games isn't anything new. San Diego star LaDainian Tomlinson hasn't played in an exhibition since 2005. Seattle's Shaun Alexander, whose team faced the Chargers last Sunday, had two carries before being pulled.
Bieniemy sounds as if he'd like to see Taylor get a few more handoffs than that tonight. "Going into this one we have to get the dust off of him a little bit," he said. "Get him going. Getting him back up to game speed and basically just getting him back in the flow of what it's like to be out there for a complete series."