- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

It hasn’t been a quiet offseason for most of the AFC South’s talented running backs.

Each of the four teams had a 1,000-yard rusher last season, but only Houston’s Domanick Davis has avoided a tumultuous offseason. Indianapolis’ Edgerrin James skipped minicamp in a snit after being named the Colts’ franchise player. Tennessee’s Chris Brown is hurt yet again. Jacksonville’s Fred Taylor had his knee scoped in January, and the running back might miss training camp and possibly the season.

Taylor has never made a Pro Bowl in seven years as the Jaguars’ top back and isn’t great in short yardage or as a receiver, but he’s critical to Jacksonville’s hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Jacksonville (9-7) didn’t rush for 100 yards in its three games without Taylor last year and scored just 19 total points. Backups LaBrandon Toefield, Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala and Greg Jones are pedestrian, and the Jaguars didn’t add a back until drafting Alvin Pearman in the fourth round. Taylor gained 1,224 yards in 2004 but hasn’t run since he was hurt Dec.19.

“If you take Fred out, it’s a big hit,” said new offensive coordinator Carl Smith.

The Jaguars have covered up almost 10,000 seats at Alltel Stadium after failing to sell out 12 of 16 home games over the last two years. With six of this year’s first seven games against 2004 playoff teams, Jacksonville fans might be covering their eyes if Taylor doesn’t return.

Jacksonville apparently hasn’t talked with Buffalo about trading for Travis Henry, but Tennessee is interested in the unhappy but talented runner. After permitting Antowain Smith to leave as a free agent, the Titans have the brittle Brown and little else in the backfield.

“We think Henry has a lot of ability,” Titans owner Bud Adams said. “Because of where he went to college [Tennessee], I think he’d be real popular with the fans. I think he’d be a real good addition.”

Though Brown can be a dynamic performer, he missed 10 games in his first two seasons with various injuries and couldn’t finish five other games last season after replacing the departed Eddie George.

Brown fractured his right hand in May but is supposed to be ready for training camp next month. With draft pick Damien Nash recovering from knee surgery, the Titans’ top two healthy backs are undrafted rookies Walter Reyes of Syracuse and Terry Jackson of Southern Illinois. Jarrett Payton, the son of late Hall of Fame back Walter Payton, could be a factor after tying for first in NFL Europe with seven rushing touchdowns and ranking second at 5.6 yards a carry.

Born to be a Brown — Quarterback Charlie Frye, who attended Akron, was excited after being selected in the third round by Cleveland. Frye, who figures to back up Trent Dilfer this season, grew up a huge Browns fan in Willard, Ohio, about 90 minutes from Cleveland.

A framed picture of former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar still hangs in Frye’s bedroom. Frye also still has the napkin he got Kosar to autograph for him at Chuck E. Cheese when he was 7. But Frye didn’t request Kosar’s old No.19. Perish the thought.

“No, that’s Bernie’s number,” Frye said reverentially.

European expansion — After four European veterans of NFL Europe spent last year on the practice squads of the NFC West teams, the program has been expanded to the eight teams of the NFC South and AFC West this year. Three of the players are from Germany, two from Finland and one each from the United Kingdom, Norway and Belgium. The players cannot be activated or cut and don’t count against the five-man practice squad limit. Guard Peter Heyer (Kansas City) and safety Richard Yancy (San Diego), both Germans, are back for a second season.

The other two players from 2004, Mexican offensive lineman Rolando Cantu (Arizona) and German defensive end Christian Mohr (Seattle), are now on the active rosters of their teams.

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