It's a shame there aren't more people like Fred Taylor in the NFL.
I say "people", not "athletes" because Taylor is much more than a phenomenal running back and stellar athlete, he is a person who cares and respects the game of football, his peers, and carries himself in an unselfish and professional manner that is almost unique in today’s "there is an I in team" attitude.
The NFL is filled with middle-of-the-road players like Adam Jones who have no problem taking what they have for granted and can’t stay out of trouble.
There is also the unique case of Michael Vick, who is arguably one of the best athletes in NFL history and who made a terrible off-field decision which landed him in prison, bankrupt, and the face of dog fighting in America.
It isn't uncommon for veteran players to sit out of voluntary mini-camps and summer workouts because of their age and experience.
It is understandable that when players begin to age, staying healthy can be more of a chore than when they were young. The threat of a career ending injury during a preseason drill becomes much more real towards the end of a players career.
Unfortunately, it is also common to see players sitting out of these drills because they simply don't think they need to attend. They believe the team is lucky to have signed them, and they will perform when they are ready to perform.
Family issues, age, and veteran status aside, we all know players will stay away from camp for ridiculous reasons every year. A player who wants a larger salary, bigger bonus, longer contract extension, etc., will put all of these issues above the team.
So why is Fred Taylor, an 11-year veteran of the NFL who has over 11,000 rushing yards and over 12,000 total yards from scrimmage, acting the polar opposite of this “superstar” attitude?
The answer is simple, Fred is the rare breed of NFL athlete who can appreciate where he is, and what he does.
Taylor showed up ready to learn at New England's preseason workouts. “I decided to come out here with the rookies and the other guys returning to the team. It’s fun getting to know my teammates, getting to know all the different faces around here."
Taylor's attitude and outlook toward his new team and situation should be the blueprint for NFL players, regardless if you are the new hotshot rookie, or the veteran who has been proving himself for years.
Showing an effort, desire, and eagerness to meet your new team and striving to become a productive member of an organization are aspects of a player that are just as important for coaches to consider as age or accomplishments.
Take a look at the 2005 NFL draft. Adam "Pacman" Jones was picked sixth overall by the Titans. He was involved in several incidents (according to the Titans organization) immediately following the draft, and then skipped most of the preseason workouts because he was holding out over "contract issues."
Jones had a decent rookie season, he didn't make the Pro Bowl but he still put up respectable numbers. The Titans spent the rest of their time with Jones trying to calm him down and work with him so he would stop being involved in off-field issues.
After Jones was suspended for a year, he was traded to Dallas where his issues continued until he finally became the main event on Pros vs. Joes.
Fast forward to the second round of the 2005 NFL draft where Justin Miller, a cornerback out of Clemson, was picked up by the New York Jets.
Miller didn't have all the dazzling statistics at Clemson that Jones had at West Virginia; however, Miller never had any major character issues in college or immediately following the draft.
Miller went on to make the Pro Bowl in 2006, and after a season-ending knee injury was traded to the Raiders. Once in Oakland, Miller didn't hold out, and didn’t get into trouble.
Instead, he spent his time working out with the team and rehabbing his knee, and in 2008 had back-to-back games with kickoff returns for over 90 yards earning himself Special Teams Player of the Month for December, 2008.
The Vick situation is as big a headache as it is unique. Vick has more athletic ability than most people have ever seen which is why it gives fans of the NFL such a headache that he could throw it away so easily.
Anyone who appreciates athleticism can say they enjoyed watching Vick run all over defenses, and his arm strength is amazing (although his accuracy needs some work).
Vick didn't get the slap on the wrist that Jones did for fighting other humans and being involved in altercations that involved handguns.
Vick had the book thrown in his face and spent a good chunk of time in a federal prison for dog fighting.
Not to mention becoming the poster boy for animal cruelty in a society where dog fighting happens all the time, just ask Clinton Portis.
As far as athletic ability, Adam Jones was an average (if that) defensive back and return man who couldn't play anything other than those two positions, while Vick's athletic ability is questioned by no one and he could theoretically play running back, receiver, and quarterback.
Taylor is a phenomenal running back, but he has remained out of trouble and is getting ready to win another championship.
Adam Jones, more than likely, will never play in the NFL again, let alone start. He has been in the same sort of trouble over and over again and continues to deny involvement and give sob-story explanations for why he was even at the location of the incidents.
Michael Vick took the blame, and even though he didn't expect to have the book thrown at him, he accepted the consequences for his actions.
It's sad that the NFL and its fans have to deal with the ignorance and disregard of some players. Adam Jones will likely never play on an NFL field again.
Michael Vick absolutely deserves another shot at the NFL and has already proved himself as a worthy athlete; however, the dog fighting issue (regardless of how he accepted his punishment) was a major step in the wrong direction and resulted in him sitting out what could have been two of the most productive seasons in his career.
Fred Taylor is handling his transition to his first new team since signing with the Jaguars like a true professional and should be a role model for the Joneses and Vicks of the league.
Not only will his athleticism help the Patriots win games, his attitude will help bond a locker room and keep morale high as New England tries to take back its crown as the dynasty of the decade.