By Jim Thomas

It seems like forever since Stephen Davis paid his free-agent visit to Rams Park. But as Davis quickly corrected, "I was here last week."

Davis, it seems, answers questions like he hits the hole at running back: quickly and to the point. And yes, it was just last week -- Aug. 23 to be exact -- when Davis worked out for the Rams.

"I had to go back home and talk to my wife and get the OK from her," Davis said, "and my mom and my kids, and just work out some things that we needed to work out."

With his wife Dee Dee's blessing, Davis signed what was believed to be a one-year, $810,000 contract with the Rams on Friday. Davis said Philadelphia was in the mix as well, but in the end he believed that St. Louis was a better fit.
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"I've been in a similar system before early in my career," Davis said Friday at Rams Park. "The running game is similar to what I had back in '99 (in Washington). It's a great fit for me. Downhill running, play-action pass. You've got some receivers here that can get open and open up the running game."

Davis is a three-time Pro Bowler who led the NFC in rushing in 1999 and 2001 with the Redskins. His career high in rushing came in 2003, when he helped get Carolina to the Super Bowl with 1,444 yards.

But time and knee problems slowed down Davis the past two seasons. He was limited to two games and 92 yards rushing in 2004 with Carolina because he needed microfracture surgery on his right knee.

He began the 2005 season as Carolina's starter and gained 549 yards with 12 touchdowns. But as the season progressed, Davis' knee regressed. He was placed on the injured reserve list Dec. 17. On March 1, the Panthers released Davis two days before he was due a $1.05 million roster bonus.

"It wasn't a shock," Davis said of his release. "I saw the direction they were going in. And I had some great years there. They really believed in me. That's all you can ask for, somebody that believes in you and gives you the opportunity to come in and help the team win. That's what I did.

"I have no regrets. They have a great coaching staff there, great owner, and I really appreciate them bringing me in. But now, it's something new and I'm ready to get where I need to be and help the Rams win."

In St. Louis, Davis is being counted on to be the No. 2 back behind Steven Jackson. Coach Scott Linehan said the Rams had Davis on their radar for quite some time as a complementary back to Jackson. But Davis and his agent didn't get the word out that he was interested in playing until after training camp started.

In a sense, Davis said his mind was made up when the Panthers released him that he wanted to keep playing. But he had to make sure the knee was right.

"I just wanted to sit back and just let my body heal," Davis said. "And let everything be the way it needed to be so I can go out and perform 100 percent."

During his Aug. 23 workout in St. Louis, Linehan said Davis passed his physical "with flying colors" and looked agile and healthy running and making cuts. But the only way to get in football shape is to practice playing football, so Linehan made sure Davis got started on that as quickly as possible Friday.

"As soon as he signed, I said we can't wait until (Saturday), we've got to at least start working on the conditioning side," Linehan said. "It's not a perfect scenario. It would be nice to say he'd been through an entire camp, and we're ready to go. But some things take time, and we're going to have to accelerate the conditioning as much as we can."

On Friday afternoon, strength and conditioning coaches Dana LeDuc and Brad Roll put Davis through what Linehan referred to as something akin to a "mock game."

Whatever you call it, a grinning Davis said, "I was running a little bit."

The idea is to get Davis ready, if possible, for the season opener Sept. 10 against Denver. Linehan said it was "very realistic" to think Davis could play in the opener.

Even at this advanced stage in his career, the hope at Rams Park is that Davis can spell Jackson, and help in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

"He's one of those north-and-south guys," Linehan said. "He has a really good feel for setting up blocks and hitting the hole. But he doesn't make it fancy. He makes one cut, and gets downhill. He knows how to get first downs. He moves the chains."

At 6 feet and 230 pounds, Davis is more of a pure power back than Jackson.

When it became apparent last month that Davis wanted to keep playing, Linehan looked at tape of him from about five games in 2005. He also relied heavily on the advice of Rams vice president of player personnel Tony Softli, who had spent the previous 11 seasons in Carolina.

"We based a lot of our decision on talking to people like Tony that had been around him that know he still has some fuel in the tank," Linehan said.

Davis said he has no problems backing up Jackson.

"I've got more years behind me than I've got in front of me," he said. "And if I can find the opportunity to help a young guy like Steven Jackson, with his ability and his mind-set, I'd be willing to do that. Coach Linehan gave me the opportunity, and I'm just going to make the best of my opportunity."