INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A healthy Jonathan Taylor explained Thursday how happy he is to be practicing again with the Indianapolis Colts.
He wouldn’t discuss the ugly contract dispute he’s had with the team.
In his first public comments since June, the All-Pro running back stood at the podium, smiled and mostly sidestepped questions about his relationship with the Colts and his future with the team.
“I don’t think it matters if I’m saying committed or not because I’m here,” he said. “If somebody wasn’t committed, they wouldn’t be here. Right now, I’m here and my No. 1 goal is really to attack this first practice. It’s been over 290 days, I believe. When you’re not doing what you love, you’re going to notice it, so my main goal has been to attack this first day.”
Taylor missed all of the team’s offseason workouts while rehabbing from ankle surgery and all of training camp after going on the physically unable to perform list because of lingering pain. Then in late August, one day after keeping Taylor on the PUP list to start the regular season, Colts general manager Chris Ballard reiterated he wouldn’t put Taylor or anyone else on the field with an injury.
The decision gave Taylor four additional weeks to work his way back to full health.
Now, he insists, he’s ready.
“I’ve been in communication with my teammates the whole time I’ve been here rehabbing” Taylor said. “They’ve asked me every day, ‘Hey, how are you feeling?’ I kept telling them I’m inching closer and closer. So the day has finally come for me to hit the field. It’s an awesome feeling when you’ve been working so hard to get to a certain point.”
But is he happy in Indianapolis?
When Taylor last spoke publicly, he complained about league owners undervaluing running backs in general, citing the $10.1 million franchise tag number. It’s the lowest of any position other than kickers or punters.
At the same time, Taylor lobbied for a contract extension before heading into the final year of his rookie deal. The dispute lingered into training camp where Taylor’s agent and Colts owner Jim Irsay engaged in a social media spat. Irsay met with Taylor for one hour on his bus during a training camp practice with a capacity crowd. Taylor made a subsequent trade request and finally the Colts gave Taylor permission to find a trade partner.
Indy could keep Taylor this season and at least two more years by using the franchise tag.
The former Wisconsin Badgers star wouldn’t discuss any of those things.
“I’m not going to get into any contract stuff,” Taylor said. “This is a big day for me, to go back out there and do what I love.”
The other big question is whether Taylor will play Sunday when the Colts (2-2) host Tennessee.
Colts coach Shane Steichen was not scheduled to meet with reporters again until Friday, but the Titans (2-2) weren’t waiting for a formal announced.
“I fully expect it,” Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen said when asked about Taylor playing. “If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. But (he’s an) elite back in this league. If he’s available, I imagine he’s going to play.”
Taylor’s teammates believe he could play this week. Mostly, though, they were supportive of Taylor. Three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard said those inside the locker room paid no attention to the narratives about Taylor.
“J.T., he’s a great, great teammate,” two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “He cares about all the guys and everybody, and I know he’s excited to be back and the guys are excited to see him. He’s a big-time playmaker an offense.”
It’s not just the Colts who are happy to see and hear from Taylor, either. So is Titans star and two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry.
“It’s always good when a guy is able to get back healthy and really help his team,” Henry said. “Him being a RB and us having that collective group, just wish the best for him. Don’t wish too much of the best for him on Sunday, but you know glad to see him back healthy and being able to play.”
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, also contributed to this report.
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