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J. Taylor refuses to sack his goals for 2002 season

Submitted by: Ethan J. Skolnick - The Miami Herald

Courtesy of Ethan J. Skolnick - The Miami Herald

While Jason Taylor sets goals -- the loftier the better -- he would rather not set anybody off. When the Dolphins' defensive end is asked about his desire to break the single-season sack record, set at 22 last season by the Giants' Michael Strahan, he strains not to come off as brashly as he comes off the ball.

''If he can do it . . .'' said Taylor, who starts his quest Sunday against Detroit. ``Not to sell Michael Strahan short, he's a heck of a football player. I mean, he's great. But if he can do it, why can't I?

" I'm not going to sit here like [Warren] Sapp and say what I am going to accomplish, and beat my chest. But it's a goal. I mean, sure. When somebody puts something out there like that, obviously it's attainable but very hard to do. But why not shoot for it? If you come up short and end up with 16 or 17, then hey, you are in good shape.''

For veterans, the preseason is about shearing rookies' hair, watching them get cut, and spending some spare time thinking about personal growth: the possibilities of the new season, and what is individually achievable.

Football is a collective endeavor, but Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt -- for all his one-game-at-a-time talk -- is supportive of some forward thinking, at least when players are establishing personal statistical targets.

''We always talk about the team goals, but every person has some individual goals that he would like to get done,'' Wannstedt said. ``If you don't, if you are not motivated by anything, I don't know how you become the best.''

Players often tread lightly on this subject, scared to seem selfish; they always start by announcing a Super Bowl as their priority. But certain Dolphins have come clean, and if they achieve their aspirations, a Super Bowl appearance might be a formality anyway.

Jay Fiedler wants to record more than 25 touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions -- the Raiders' Rich Gannon was the only quarterback to pull that off last season. Olindo Mare hopes leading the league in touchbacks will help make Miami the best kickoff-coverage return unit, eight spots higher than last season. And Mare, who led the NFL in field-goal percentage making 19 of 21 attempts, is aiming for perfection.

Many target the Pro Bowl, from Arturo Freeman in his first year as a starting safety to backup fullback Deon Dyer.

Others are coy.

David Bowens, who will miss the opener with a hand injury and has a career high of 3.5 sacks, smiles and initially declines when asked about his personal goals.

''Hey, that's why it's personal,'' he says, pausing, unable to hold it in. ``I'll give you a hint. As far as sacks, let's try some So, double digits?

''I'm gonna try, man,'' Bowens said.

Oronde Gadsden longs to catch 100 passes, though his career high is 56. Only six NFL receivers were in triple digits last season, and the Miami record is 90. In fact, Gadsden believes he and Chris Chambers can catch 100 passes, something only two tandems (Denver's Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey and Detroit's Herman Moore and Brett Perriman) have done. Chambers has tempered Gadsden's prediction, saying he will take 80.

Gadsden does no backpedaling. That's for defensive backs.

''Hey, you know, it starts Sunday, and I'm definitely going to try to get a jump,'' Gadsden said. ``I'm definitely going to set my goal higher than 56 catches. I was always shooting for one or two more, and always coming within one or two of the goal. So I figure if I set my sights higher, and I get 80 or 90, I'll still be considered a good receiver.''

Taylor is already considered a good pass rusher, even after his sack total slipped from 14 to 8 . But despite posting a career-best 86 tackles, he did not make the Pro Bowl. That is part of his motivation for chasing Strahan as well as quarterbacks.

''No matter what we say about stats around here, it's kind of what the fans and the media look at,'' Taylor said. ``So I look at it, and make the goals accordingly. With the sacks, you get the Pro Bowl. You get the little Inside the Huddle things on ESPN, and that's where some of the notoriety comes from. Do I agree with it all the time? No. Some guys get 10, 11 sacks and they got 20 tackles at the end of the year, and they are drinking umbrella drinks in Hawaii, and the rest of us aren't.

"But that's part of it. I've got to get my sack number back up in double digits, and see what happens from there.''

On Nov. 4, the Dolphins play at Green Bay, and if quarterback Brett Favre is playing -- he has started 159 straight -- Taylor might get some help. Favre was accused of laying down for Strahan last January, allowing the Giant to break Mark Gastineau's record.

''I know Brett a little bit,'' Taylor said. ``I'm not going to call him ahead of time and ask him to dive for me or whatever. Even with Michael's deal, I'll never be one to say it was a gimme, at least publicly. The man got 22 sacks. And everyone complained about the last one, but if you take it away, he's got 21 , that's a hell of a year too. But I won't call Brett up, no. I might whisper to him on the field, and say, hey, give me a couple here.''

Get him to his goal.
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