Friday, January 21, 2000

Jags betting on Brunell, Taylor


Offensive stars both say injuries won't stop them

BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jaguars are playing the percentages as they get ready for Sunday's AFC championship game here against Tennessee — at least when it comes to their banged-up offensive stars.

        Mark Brunell?

        Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin pronounced his scrambling quarterback “85 percent” after watching Brunell work on his sprained left knee at Thursday's practice.

        Fred Taylor?

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        The Jags' shake-and-bake runner who has been hot and cold this season because of a balky left hamstring said Thursday he's 95 percent.

        “Last week I think he told me he was 80 percent,” said right tackle Leon Searcy, “which is scary.”

        At 80 percent, Taylor did a number on the Dolphins. He shook loose for the longest run in postseason history, a 90-yarder for a TD, and scored another touchdown on a 39-yard catch.

        Taylor has scored seven touchdowns in the last five games, but he missed six games and parts of four others because of the hamstring he injured in the season's second game.

        In five of the six games Taylor missed, the Jags passed more than they ran, and one of those was a 20-19 loss to the Titans. In the other game Taylor missed, Jacksonville ran as often as it passed. That flies smack in Coughlin's smash-mouth philosophy of running the ball 60 percent of the time.

        Had Taylor stayed healthy, “No doubt he would have been the top rusher in the league,” receiver Jimmy Smith said. “Just look at the stats and look at the big plays he's made. When he comes into the game, it's like night and day. The whole defense goes to eight (players at the line of scrimmage), and it opens up the passing game.”

        Just how effective the passing will be remains to be seen. Brunell ran a bootleg against the Dolphins early last week and looked effective despite playing with two knee braces. But he played only 18 minutes and didn't take any meaningful shots, and if he doesn't have his usual mobility, he'll be in trouble if the Titans rush him the way they did Colts quarterback Peyton Manning last week.

        Brunell says he's nearly 100 percent, but since he and Coughlin haven't agreed on much this season, why start now?

        “He's much better than he was last week,” Coughlin said. “This is his fourth weekend of recovery, and most of our (medial collateral ligament injuries) come back in four weeks. I'm not going to say he's 100 percent.”

        Smith and Searcy think Brunell might be close, because in the last four or five outings, Smith said Brunell “has been as sharp as ever, throwing the ball right on the money.”

        While Brunell is nursing his knee, Taylor, a second-year player who rushed for 1,223 yards as a rookie, has been known to talk to his hamstring.

        “C'mon, you've got to be ready,” he tells it.

        Taylor said he's never felt as good as he did after getting 74 yards in the opener, the week before he pulled the hamstring. For a while, he tried everything to get it better, from changing the color of the tape on his cleats to the direction he plastered the breathing strip on his nose.

        “It will come and go,” Taylor said. “It feels like it kind of wants to cramp up, or it feels fatigued a little. But I just stretch and ice it up. ... It doesn't feel as good as it did (in the opener), but it feels pretty good. But it's good enough to go out there.”

       



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