By Kathleen Nelson
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
12/31/2006


If the Vikings' Chester Taylor adds the fifth 100-yard rushing game to his season Sunday, Rams fans will have Missouri coach Gary Pinkel to thank, at least in part.

The career paths of Taylor and Pinkel intersected at the University of Toledo, a stone's throw from Taylor's home near Detroit. The school was the closest and best scholarship option for Taylor. Pinkel served as head coach there until leaving for Missouri in 2000.

The normally soft-spoken Taylor opened up at the mention of Pinkel, whom he described with a hearty laugh as "very strict. He was the type of guy that wanted it his way. He was more like a military coach. He wanted everything the same. Everybody had to dress the same out on the practice field."

The regimentation might have been exasperating, but it had its reward: "Learning how to be disciplined and becoming a man," Taylor said. "Coming from high school to an organization like that, I became a man really quick."
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He also became a pretty decent runner. Taylor rushed for 1,176 yards as a sophomore and 1,470 yards as a junior under Pinkel's tutelage, but he had his best year after Pinkel departed, under Tom Amstutz. Taylor made third-team Associated Press All-America as a senior and was named MVP in Toledo's 23-16 win over Cincinnati in the Motor City Bowl with 190 yards rushing. To earn the spot in the bowl, though, Toledo had to rally to defeat Marshall 41-36 in the Mid-American Conference championship game. Taylor rushed for 188 yards, leading the Rockets' rally from a 23-0 deficit.

Even Vikings coach Brad Childress remembered watching the performance.

"They were 23 points down, and he took over the game in the second half," Childress said.

Pro scouts paid little attention, and Taylor lasted until the sixth round of the 2002 draft, when the Ravens selected him 207th overall.

For four years, Taylor sat behind Jamal Lewis, earning just eight starts. But he made the most of his chances with a 4.3-yard career average and 714 yards in 2004, when he started four games.

"At times, I felt like I could do a lot more to help the team win, sitting on the sidelines but not participating a lot," Taylor said.



The good news for Taylor was that Childress got an eyeful of him. At the time, Childress was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles, who played the Ravens each year in preseason.

"I was able to watch him run by me on the sidelines on a couple different occasions, once when I stepped out on the field and watched him run all the way down the sidelines," Childress said. "Jamal Lewis wasn't taking all that many snaps in preseason games. I said, 'Who in the heck is that guy?' He was a low-mileage guy who I thought had great capability to catch the football. He didn't get a chance to get featured in that area. And I thought he was a tough guy."

So, when Childress took over as Vikings head coach, Taylor was on the top of his wish list and signed a four-year, $14.1 million contract on the first day of free agency. The change to Childress' offensive scheme gives Taylor more opportunities.

"I'm probably a slasher, but I can also run up the middle, take the hits and go outside also. I have a versatile style," Taylor said. "I'm getting more of a chance catching the ball, running this West Coast offense, than we did in Baltimore."

Though Minnesota's passing offense has struggled, Taylor has thrived. He has caught 41 passes for 284 yards and has rushed for 1,185, ninth in the NFL, despite missing one game and being slowed by a rib injury. He is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Rams.

"I think he's relentless," Childress said. "I just think he keeps trying to find a way to come out the other end and push things forward. Great competitor. Locks his jaw and does not like to get beaten."