Camp tour: Rams' tough Jackson takes torch from aging Faulk
Aug. 27, 2005
By Pete Prisco
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
ST. LOUIS -- For all the yardage and points the St. Louis Rams have put up during the Mike Martz era of offensive football, they've always been viewed as one of the softer teams in the league, a pretty point-machine that didn't have the toughness to pound the ball when it needed to do so.
When you finish a season ranked 29th in the league in rushing, which the Rams did in 2004, that's a hard reputation to shake.
That is about to change.
Martz still prefers the pass -- and for that he is to be saluted -- but there are 231 reasons why he's about to lean more about the power running game than at any time in his tenure with the team. That number 231 is the weight for starting running back Steven Jackson, who takes over in that role from veteran Marshall Faulk.
Faulk is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he will get there with an amazing cutting ability and speed that allowed him to turn what should have been a 12-yard run into a 70-yard touchdown.
Jackson is all about power, which is something the Rams haven't had in their backfield since the Jerome Bettis days.
Finesse is about to go bye-bye.
"He brings the power," Rams receiver Torry Holt said. "He's a hard, tough back. He's like Eddie George with more speed and burst. He brings another air of toughness to our side of the ball."
Looking at Jackson, it's clear he's going to be a heck of a tough runner to tackle for opposing defenses. At 6-2, he is thick and looks even bigger than his listed height and weight. Thinking of him coming at you full speed isn't a soothing thought.
St. Louis Rams
Out of Nowhere Man
DB Corey Ivey
When the Rams brought Corey Ivey into camp, they weren't too sure he'd make their team. As it turns out, he might be their nickel back. He has made a lot of plays in camp, and has been one of the pleasant surprises. At 5-8, he's spent six years in the league without much fanfare, playing for New England and Tampa Bay. He doesn't have a career interception, but that may change in 2005.
As a rookie last season, he showed the toughness to run inside, but he also showed the burst to rip off the long runs. Martz stuck with Faulk as his starter -- some said it was because he has a soft spot in his heart when it comes to Faulk -- but eventually Jackson became the starter before knee problems limited him late in the season.
Martz officially named him the starter in the spring -- Jackson learned about it while watching television from his home in Las Vegas -- but Jackson said the transition was made last season.
"The transition took place long before you guys knew it," Jackson said. "Look at the game last year. I was playing more than him toward the end of the season. The change happened before the announcement. You guys just didn't know it."
Taking over for a player of Faulk's status can be tough. Faulk has done so much for the Rams, helping them win a Super Bowl and getting to another. He was the type of back who would make defenses fearful of the big play every time he ran the ball.
Faulk has accepted the change with grace. He has been surly at times in his career, but so far he's been pleasant during this camp, according to Rams insiders. Change is inevitable, even for the great ones, and Faulk seems to understand it.
Jackson credits Faulk with helping him with the little things needed to play running back in the league.
"There's no hard feelings at all," Jackson said. "If anything, we're closer than we were last year. He helps me with the little things my young eyes don't see yet or understand. Sometimes, the coaches can be too technical. Marshall can act as a player and a coach. He's seen it and done it all. That helps."
Jackson played in 14 games last season, starting three, after being a first-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Jackson ran for 673 yards on 134 carries for an eye-opening 5.0 average. He had five runs of 20 yards or longer and caught 19 passes.
Jackson's best game came in late December when he ran for 148 yards on 24 carries against the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles. That's a 6.2 average -- a hint of what might come this season.
That game and one other were the only two in which Jackson carried 20 or more times. After he did it the first time, he sat out two games with the knee troubles. He said it was then that he heard questions about his durability.
"They have to say something, they have to pick at something," Jackson said. "I heard it a lot. But I know I can handle the carries. That's not an issue."
During camp he's been wearing a yellow jersey. The meaning behind it is that he and Faulk are both off-limits to the defensive players, a way to safeguard the team's top runners.
That hasn't limited all the contact, though. There have been instances where the defense has popped him a time or two and Jackson took exception to it. He was involved in a little shoving match with feisty safety Adam Archuleta during one practice.
"Steven can punish people," Martz said.
Seeing Martz's face light up when he talks about Jackson says tons about his player, particularly since he has such a strong tie to Faulk.
"He's on the verge of something special," Martz said of Jackson. "He's a power runner who has the quickness and the agility to make people miss."
Jackson played much of last season with a sore knee. He injured the knee at Oregon State in 2003, had surgery on it, but never was able to fully rehab it. He played through it for most of the year, but had clean-up surgery on it after the season.
"I never felt right," Jackson said. "Now it does."
That's not good news for the guys who will be trying to tackle him. Soft is no longer a word associated with the Rams running game.
"The running back sets the tempo for the offense," Jackson said. "If I'm out there banging on people, it lets the defense know it's time to get it on. Everything has to change. Everything needs a new beginning. They used to play power football with Eric Dickerson and Bettis with this franchise. It's time to go back to those days."
Shortly after saying that, Jackson got up off the window ledge he was filling as he sat for the interview to walk away. That's a big back, folks.
Good luck to all those tacklers who think the Rams are still a finesse team.