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    Bernie Bytes: Appreciating Steven Jackson

    by Bernie Miklasz

    When Steven Jackson arrived in Earth City in 2004, the Rams were still a decent team. They'd go 8-8 and squeeze into the playoffs, winning a wild-card game at Seattle before getting ambushed at Atlanta in the second round. It was basically the last hurrah of what was left of the "Greatest Show" years. Marshall Faulk was still around, and Jackson could never be fully accepted as long as #28 was here.

    But as Faulk's knees gave out, Jackson took over. He also took over at a time when the Rams' franchise spiraled into a dramatic state of decline. Jackson was caught in the vortex. He piled up lots of yards, but with the team losing so many games, the production was downgraded or dismissed as largely irrelevant among the more ignorant Jackson critics.

    Which, of course, was nonsense. Blaming Jackson for the team's failure to win was silly. It's the equivalent of blaming him for all of the horrible draft picks and personnel decisions, or holding him responsible for Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Orlando Pace getting old. Because that's why the Rams turned into a bad team; star players left or slowed down or were physically damaged and the front office did a terrible job in replacing them. That wasn't Jackson's fault. If anything it made his performance even more remarkable. Because over the last few seasons, every coach, every coordinator went into a game against the Rams with only one thing to worry about: stack enough players in the box, and smother Steven Jackson. And he powered his way to extra yards, fighting to do what he could to help the team. Between 2005 and 2009, five seasons, Jackson averaged more yards from scrimmage per game (116.2) than any NFL player, even with the defense aligned with the solitary goal of stopping him. And yet we heard constant criticism of Jax in this town. It was strange.

    Granted, in Jackson's early years here, he was certainly a tad immature. He said some things he shouldn't have said. His contract holdout a few summers ago was ill-advised. And that's why so many fans refused to warm up to Jackson. But in the grand scheme of things, this was minor stuff. It's not as if Jackson was a bad person, or a rotten teammate. He was just, well, young. And probably frustrated to be donating his career to a lost cause.

    It's interesting to see how Jackson has evolved. He's become a tremendous leader under head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Jax has been a positive influence in his vocal leadership, and in his actions. Though last year's 1-15 record -- and a back injury -- probably had Jackson screaming inside, he never wavered from his commitment to be a forward-thinking Ram who could see daylight ahead. Jackson trained very hard. He's taken care of himself. He's put in extra time. Tuesday morning, on a day off, Jackson was at Rams Park, studying video of Sunday's opponent, Detroit.

    Sunday, Jackson gave the Rams 70 yards rushing and 54 receiving while playing on one good leg. A groin injury took away his acceleration and ability to motor in a lateral direction, but it didn't matter. Jackson gutted it out. This was a huge game for the Rams, and Jackson gave them one from the heart. Inspirational. Yes.

    I sense, and I hope, that things have changed for him in St. Louis. I can't imagine why fans who once disliked Jackson because of his occasional popping off would still hold it against him. That would be rather bitter and foolish, no? I think young people, including athletes, are allowed to grow up, and become wiser as they do. Jackson is one of those individuals. Really, at age 27 he's everything you'd want in a leader.

    Here's the interesting thing to me: through four games, Jackson ranks 10th in the league in rushing yards, 12th in yards from scrimmage, and 14th in average yards from scrimmage per game. Some younger backs are getting more yards and glory now. Guys like Arian Foster, Darren McFadden, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, LeSean McCoy may finish with more yards than Jackson this season.

    Who knows? The Rams, with quarterback Sam Bradford and a better offensive line, are more capable of doing damage through the air. The offense will lean heavily on Jackson, but it's more diversified. So it's a little ironic: at a time when Jackson's production has dropped a bit, relative to other NFL backs, you can make the case that the respect for him has never been higher. It's because of the quality of leadership SJ39 is providing for an emerging team. It's because the Rams have found a QB, some receivers, a defense and better players to go 2-2. It wasn't Jackson's fault that the Rams were losing before, but it's just as well that he receives credit now.

    I think it's overdue. For the longest time, Jackson took a beating for an awful football team. Now that the team is improving, he's more appreciated for what he represents. He's a football survivor. SJ39 deserves every accolade that comes his way ...

    Reading Time 2 Minutes:

    * The Rams are starting to receive some national attention. For instance, Terry Bradshaw will be visiting Rams Park for a sitdown interview with Sam Bradford. I don't think any of this stuff will distract Bradford. He's been through this before. He was a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma. Bradford handled the limelight beautifully at OU. He will handle it smoothly here. Bradford is anchored. He's as solid as it gets. Don't worry about the extra attention. As for the other Rams players -- well there isn't a rush to their lockers by a bunch of out-of-town media. They'll be fine. Spagnuolo is good at keeping his team locked in mentally.

    * Alex Barron doesn't work here anymore ... one encouraging stat about the Rams offensive line through four games. Only three false starts so far, one each by Jason Smith, Rodger Saffold and Adam Goldberg. Moreover, the Rams O-linemen have had four holding penalties assessed against them, and only three were actually enforced. And another, against J. Smith, was completely bogus. Compared to recent seasons, this appears to be much more efficient and stable line.

    * Only five NFL wide receivers have been targeted for more passing attempts than the Rams' Mark Clayton. Bradford has thrown to Clayton 41 times, completing 22 for 300 yards and two TDs. Clayton has four plays of 25+ yards; that ties him for fourth most in the NFL. A brilliant pickup by Rams GM Billy Devaney.

    Thanks for reading ...



  2. #2
    richtree's Avatar
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Appreciating Steven Jackson

    amen to the Oline doin' work !!!

  3. #3
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Appreciating Steven Jackson

    I agree 100% about the rams offensive line. Going into this season I was a little worried about their young offensive tackles, but was not worried about their center of guards after the season they had last year.

    So far this season I am surprised and impressed at how well the offensive line is playing.

    Go Rams 2010

  4. #4
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    Re: Bernie Bytes: Appreciating Steven Jackson

    Agreed. It could definitely use more polishing and final touching up ( the O-line) but so far I'm really impressed with the mental focus and discipline of these guys and the chemistry will only get better which in turn means less worries.

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