How ‘Running Back U’ prepared Jonathan Taylor to run to stardom as an Indianapolis Colts player – Indianapolis Colts blog

INDIANAPOLIS – Jonathan Taylor couldn’t help but to hear it.

The Indianapolis Colts running back often heard it as he’d make his way through the tunnel to the locker room after another 125-yard rushing performance.

Taylor read comments from social media and was open to being listened to when he was approached.

“MVP, MVP,” people would often shout to the second-year player.

“It’s hard not to think about it, especially when fans are cheering because we won the game and you hear the MVP chants,” Taylor said. “That’s something I would have never thought of in my wildest dreams.”

Taylor had become a worthy MVP candidate by midseason as he began to distance himself from the other running backs in rushing's title race. However, as the Colts stumbled down the stretch Taylor's ground production declined, increasing the likelihood of quarterbacks. Aaron RodgersOr Tom BradyBeing named MVP at the NFL Honors (9:00 p.m. ET, ABC).

Most likely, the drought for a running back to be named MVP will continue. Adrian Peterson in 2012 after he rushed for 2,097 yards — but producing on the field won’t stop anytime soon for Taylor.

“If a running back doesn’t win it, it means you have to do a little bit more,” Taylor said. “It’ll push you more in the offseason. It’s a blessing and honor to even have people voice that opinion that I should be the one.”

Winning a postseason award — even if it’s not MVP — is not out of the question for Taylor. Taylor has a chance to be named Offensive Player.

Taylor was the NFL's leading rusher with 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns. Both are Colts records that surpass the likes. Edgerrin James, Marshall FaulkAnd Eric Dickerson). He was the NFL's most outstanding running back after the Tennessee TitansDerrick HenryGo out with a foot injuryHalloween.

“Sometimes in meetings, [offensive coordinator] Marcus [Brady] will be up there going over the offense, and he starts reading off stats of what Jonathan’s doing and you’re like, really? That’s what he’s doing? He’s with LaDainian Tomlinson? He’s setting franchise records when we’ve had Edgerrin James here and Marshall Faulk,” tight end Jack Doyle said. “It’s crazy. Then you see the way Jonathan carries himself and you’re just like, man, this guy’s incredible. He’s the ultimate teammate, he’s the ultimate team player.”

Choosing Wisconsin over Harvard, Rutgers

Longtime Wisconsin football coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez was on the sideline standing next to current coach Paul Chryst during Taylor’s first scrimmage as a freshman at WisconsinIn 2017.

Taylor, who was on the scout team on that humid summer day, snagged a one-handed screen pass and took it the distance for a touchdown — against the team’s No. 1 defense.

Alvarez looked over at Chryst at the same time that starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook asked his coach: “Why isn’t [Taylor] in there more?”

Chryst’s response?

“Oh, he’ll be starting tomorrow.”

“From that point on, I knew we had somebody special,” Alvarez said.

Taylor almost did not end up in Wisconsin.

The Salem native from New Jersey originally chose Rutgers because it was his desire to be a “hometown Hero” and to help get the program on its feet.

Taylor changed his mind because he wanted to take on a greater challenge. Off the football field. With a 4.1 GPA, Harvard and other Ivy League schools wanted him both in the classroom as well as on the football field.

Taylor knew that a job in the financial services industry was waiting for him if he graduated Harvard. But that wasn’t enough.

“That was one of the toughest choices I had to make,” Taylor said. “I took rigorous courses in high school. I was looking for a way to push myself in the classroom so I found the Ivy League a wonderful opportunity. After much research and finally finding out Wisconsin was one of the top-10 academic institutions in the country, it sealed my deal. I was playing against some of the best athletes in the country and also competing with some of the best off the field academically.”

‘Running back U'

Alvarez, the Wisconsin coach from 1990 to 2005 knew that they could recruit offensive linemen right in their own backyard.

His coaching philosophy was simple. He wanted to create the run behind the big offensive and find the best running backs across the country.

“I always told recruits that if they’re a good running back, and they like to carry the ball, Wisconsin was a good place for them to go to,” Alvarez said.

Taylor was promoted to the front to become the Badgers' next running back. His success will likely see him join the NFL in the 2017 summer practice. He ran for 6,174 yards at Wisconsin, 6.7 yards per run, and 50 touchdowns in his three-year tenure.

In his last two seasons, he rushed over 2,000 yards.

Wisconsin has had 22 runningbacks chosen in the NFL draft. Taylor, who was picked by the Colts second round in 2020, joined the ranks of the likes. Ron Dayne, Michael Bennett, Melvin Gordon III, Montee BallAnd James WhiteReaching the NFL

“That’s why we call it Running Back U,” Dayne said. “Coach Alvarez is the only coach to have five Doak Walker winners [given to the top college running back each season]. That’s wild to have that at Wisconsin. We produce backs at Wisconsin who are good enough to play in the league.”

Alvarez said: “After a while, you start taking it for granted. It's all about the running backs. We’ve been fortunate to have them. They are a blessing to me. They’ve been all special, all been unique and have their own styles.”

The rookie wall is broken

Dayne was a Heisman Trophy nominee and the No. Dayne was the 11th overall pick in the 2000 draft. He likes that Taylor has few conversations with him about feeling discouraged about his role with Colts. After Taylor hit a rookie wall and lost snaps to, the conversations with Taylor ended. Nyheim HinesIn 2020.

“We text every game,” Dayne said. “I’d always tell him to keep his head up, especially during his first season when he had that rough stretch. Once he got his chance to show he could play the whole game, play almost every down, he was going to take off.”

Taylor ran through it, and that rookie wall is now gone.

Taylor has rushed less than 70 yards five times in the last six games of his 2020 rookie season. He’s topped 100 yards rushing 12 times in that same stretch because the game started to slow down for him.

Taylor’s dominance made the Colts a run-first offensive team because his talent takes the load off their quarterbacks. Frank Reich, Colts coach said halfway through the season his running back deserved at least 20 runs per game. Colts general manager Chris Ballard referred to Taylor as an “absolute game-changer” during an episode of “Hard Knocks.”

Taylor led the NFL in rushing yards, touchdowns, and runs of at least 20 yards (14), and 40 yards (5). He also had the longest runs of the season (83, 78).

Remember the screen pass Taylor made in his 2017 first Wisconsin scrimmage?

He completed a screen pass of 76 yards unassisted for a touchdown. Baltimore RavensThis season.

Taylor humble despite success

There’s not much Taylor can’t do.

“I’ve coached some good ones,” Colts running backs coach Scottie Montgomery said. “They all had the work ethic and they were obviously really good. JT has the highest level of physical ability and takes it to another level. His mental ability to handle the demands of running and passing game, protection and other tasks on a weekly basis. Sometimes it's easy to forget how difficult it is to be a player like this.

“He is very competitive. He does think he’s the best, but that’s not what he’s focused on. He’s in the grind and he’s measuring himself every week. It’s great when you can stay in the grind and measure yourself.”

Humble is the word that’s often used when talking about Taylor. It's easy to wonder if Taylor even realizes that he was the Colts greatest player of this season.

Not quarterback Carson Wentz. Not linebacker Darius Leonard. Guard Quenton Nelson.

Jonathan Taylor was the one who did it.

He talks like he has to prove himself, not like he’s already made it. And that’s how he wants to continue every day when he’s working out, watching film, in the ice tub or having a healthy meal.

“He’s by far one of the most humblest guys on this team,” Leonard said. “He doesn’t like attention. Even when like — say we’re in a team meeting, and they are reading out all of his stats, and you know he’s getting a game ball, he has that same little shy look on his face.

“It just shows he doesn’t care about any of the stats. He is concerned about wins and defeats. The way that he works, he’s different man and it just shows.”

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