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August 18, 2008In the face of what looks like a devastating injury to a key player, Coach Joe Tiller was able to at least muster a measure of humor Monday when addressing Jaycen Taylor's knee injury for the first time.
"I don't have a redshirt year," the retiring coach quipped, "so I don't know why he should have a redshirt year left."
The senior running back - hurt Sunday during an 11-on-11 contact drill, when his right knee was fallen on by a tackler as he made a cut - does in fact have that redshirt year available, meaning he could use this season to recover, then come back in 2009 for his final season of eligibility.
Whether he'll need to or not remains, at least officially, to be seen.
Tiller said Taylor will undergo an MRI Tuesday, then meet with knee specialist Dr. Donald Shelbourne in Indianapolis. Until those appointments are fulfilled, Tiller cannot say for certain what the 2008 fate of one of his favorite players is.
But he's not optimistic.
"I don't think we're going to get as good a news as we'd like to get," Tiller said, "but you never know."
This is the Californian's second significant injury in as many years.
As a junior, Taylor broke his arm against Central Michigan in the non-conference season, but returned just four weeks later, missing only wins over Minnesota and Notre Dame and less-than-competitive losses to Ohio State and Michigan.
In his second game back, he lit up Northwestern for 157 yards and two touchdowns, playing with a club-like brace over his forearm.
Despite missing those four games, Taylor rushed for 560 yards on a team-high average of 5.2 yards per carry. He also caught 11 passes for 65 yards.
He's also been one of Purdue's best overall special teams players and might have factored into the return game this season.
Offensively, the former junior college transfer was to be half of the two-headed "co-starter" at running back that Purdue's used the past two seasons, joining classmate Kory Sheets. With a revamped corps of receivers, it's been surmised that the Boilermakers might need to rely a little more on their veterans in the backfield this season.
Taylor and Sheets have split carries fairly evenly the past two seasons.
The starting job, however irrelevant in practical terms, was very much up in the air.
Now, Sheets wins by default.
"I might say it's bittersweet," a crestfallen Sheets said of becoming the clear starter, "but there's nothing sweet about this."
Beyond his contributions on the field, Taylor's been equally valuable off it, as well as in the huddle, on the practice field, and anywhere else teammates might congregate.
His enthusiasm, toughness and buoyant nature, just to name a few things, are part of the reverence teammates hold toward him.
In typical Taylor fashion, he was at both Purdue's practices Monday, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon, smiling and interacting with teammates as if not clad in street clothes and a protective brace.
(Taylor will not be made available to the media until his status for the season is for certain.)
"I think I can speak for everybody," Sheets said, "when I say Jaycen's the heart and soul of this team. This is a really big loss."
That said, Purdue's used to life without its heart and soul, since Taylor missed those four games a year ago.
"He gives us something from an intangible point of view, from a leadership point of view," Tiller said, when asked what his offense lost with Taylor in 2007. "He was a (junior) and yet he'd fulfill a leadership role.
"He's not so much a leader as he is an encourager. He's a very positive guy, and it's always good for your team to have anyone who's positive."
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