His expression screams SOURPUSS as the lights flash and the camera clicks. Chester Taylor doesn't want to be here, doesn't want any part of this photo shoot on a rare night off this summer at Vikings training camp.
At least, that's what he wants you to believe. Because every now and then, you catch him glancing at the instant Polaroids. He's wondering how he'll look. (He can check the front of this section to find out.)
Winston Churchill once referred to Russia as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Chester Taylor isn't too far behind.
From a distance, he appears moody and intentionally soft-spoken, part of the reason his 2006 season was among the quietest 1,216-yard efforts in recent memory. Taylor insisted that "I'm just not a verbal person," but teammates confirm his dour countenance is often an act.
"I tell him he acts like he has a whole bunch of siblings," said left tackle Bryant McKinnie, one of his closest friends on the team. "He might seem lost in the shuffle. But there is always one child that needs all the attention. That's the one he is. He's waiting for you to give it.
"Sometimes he'll come in here like he's had some kind of mood swing and ignore everybody because he wants somebody to ask what's wrong."
Taylor's sense of humor is an acquired taste, to be sure. During a rainy training camp practice last summer, for instance, a reporter was having a hard time balancing his umbrella, notebook and cell phone in two hands.
About two hours later, as players walked past the media and into the locker room, Taylor looked over and said, "Looked like you needed some help out there."The first time you meet him," coach Brad Childress said, "he's a man of very few words. But he does have a twinkle in his eye. He does have a personality, albeit a dry sense of humor. He's quick-witted."
Said McKinnie, "Sometimes you might not even realize what he said was a joke for a long time."
No one was laughing, however, when Taylor reported to Minnesota for offseason workouts in 2006. After four seasons as a backup in Baltimore, Taylor had signed a five-year contract to be the Vikings' new No. 1 tailback.
With the Ravens, Taylor had watched as starter Jamal Lewis enjoyed the fruits of a class system that limited his responsibilities in practice; Taylor wrongly assumed the same policy would apply to him with the Vikings.
"We all work the same here," he said.
Expending more energy in practice and games than ever before, Taylor broke down after Week 13. He had nearly doubled his career high for offensive touches, and he managed only 140 total yards in the final month of the season.
After an offseason focused on improving his eating habits and elevating his weekly recovery regimen, Taylor reported this summer with a much better understanding of the pounding that lies ahead. Childress called Taylor's work ethic "miles" ahead, and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said, "He's learned to be a professional."
The arrival of rookie tailback Adrian Peterson will reduce his load regardless of conditioning, but Taylor has taken no chances. His primary goal is to eat well enough to maintain his playing weight of 213 pounds throughout the season; it had fallen noticeably by the end of last year.
"Last year was my first year as a starter," Taylor said, "and I know I have to take care of my body a lot better. During the week between games, I need to do the right thing. I need to get in the cold tub, I need to lift the weights. Because your body is your temple."
Taylor was in typical form on that warm night this summer, when Peterson joined him for the end of the photo session. Peterson, smooth and comfortable in the spotlight, laughed and grinned effortlessly.
But Taylor was working overtime to maintain the grimace. He still looked unapproachable, maybe even a little mean, when suddenly he lost it: a smile, ear-to-ear, with a long exhale.