Faulk Leads Young RBs
Thursday, August 19, 2004
By Nick Wagoner
Marshall Faulk has never been a vocal guy. But, then, he has never had to be. One look at his numbers or any of his game film, and even the casual observer can see that everything he does on the field speaks for itself.
What do the numbers say? Well, aside from the staggering size of most of them, they don’t simply speak, but scream one thing: Hall of Fame. It’s not debatable whether Faulk is one of the game’s all-time greats; he has racked up 11,213 rushing yards, 6,274 receiving yards and 131 total touchdowns.
With the shrill pitch those numbers express, it might be easy for Faulk to get complacent and continue the trend. Complacency, though, has never been in Faulk’s dictionary and it isn’t being added this season. The former league MVP and Pro Bowler has accomplished most everything a player can accomplish in the NFL.
The bad news for the rest of the league is that Faulk appears healthy for the first time in awhile. Coach Mike Martz said he sometimes has to hold back his enthusiasm about Faulk. “He looks like the Marshall of old out here,” Martz said. "He feels so good and when he’s like that we try not to put a damper on it, but we also just want him to be cautious.”
A nagging knee injury and a hand injury have caused Faulk to miss time in recent years, but he continues to play, not because he wants to prove his doubters wrong, but solely because he loves the game.
Faulk has never asked himself what more he can accomplish, but he has a few ideas of what he wants to improve on. Faulk is one of the Rams’ captains this season. Normally, Faulk leads by example and it isn’t hard for him because of his success. Now, with three talented young backs angling to be his heir apparent, Faulk is attempting to take a more vocal role, something he has never done. “When you get in the heat of the battle, there are certain things that only another player can help you with,” Faulk said. “If I do something that’s kind of different, I want them to know what my thoughts were and what I was thinking and try to get them on the same page. “I’m just trying to find a way to become a better leader.”
While Faulk has spent most of his training camp on the sidelines, ensuring his health for the regular season, he has also provided an ear for his younger counterparts to turn to for advice. Faulk’s wisdom is readily available to Lamar Gordon, Arlen Harris and rookie Steven Jackson. With Faulk and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery — a former Pro Bowl running back for the Philadelphia Eagles — providing the knowledge, the trio of backups has two accomplished runners leading the way.
Jackson could have easily come to training camp with ideas of displacing Faulk. After all, Jackson was the first running back taken in April’s Draft and there was rampant speculation about the status of Faulk’s injury. Instead, Jackson has turned to Faulk consistently with questions about the nuances of the offense. "Marshall is a great guy,” Jackson said. “He’s one of those guys that will be around the game a long time, even when he’s done putting on that jersey. He knows just as much about this offense as the offensive coordinator. He sees things that I can’t believe he sees at times. We’ll watch film together and he’ll say, ‘Look at this,’ or ‘Did you see that?’ And I’m not even paying attention to what he’s looking at. “So, he will be a tremendous help in my career. I’ve heard some horror stories about veterans not helping rookies, but Marshall has done a great job. I’ve done my best to listen and to show him that I’m not just coming in thinking I’m on a high horse.”
With Faulk’s tutelage, Jackson could contribute right away. Jackson brings an impressive resume with him to the NFL, compiling 3,625 rushing yards and 46 total touchdowns in three seasons at Oregon State. Standing 6-2 and 231 pounds, Jackson offers a powerful running style that could serve as a perfect complement to Faulk’s slashing, speedy methods. Jackson readily admits that he isn’t ready to dominate, but has plenty of confidence in his abilities.
“I don’t want to brag, but I wasn’t the first running back taken in the draft for no reason,” Jackson said. “Once you get that ball in your hands, your natural ability just takes over and you just have to react to the defense. Once I learn my reads and how the plays are supposed to work, a lot of good things for me will happen.”
Jackson’s growth might be somewhat stunted until he can pass some of the other backs on the Rams’ depth chart. Harris was a surprise a year ago, making the team as an undrafted free agent. Harris gained 255 yards rushing, scored four touchdowns and emerged as the team’s best kick returner.
Harris added about 15 pounds in anticipation of a move to fullback during the offseason, but is still mainly a tailback. The added weight has made Harris more durable and gives Martz flexibility to have he and Faulk on the field at the same time. “Last year, Arlen, like the young wide receivers, was trying so hard to figure everything out and it’s different conditioning wise for them because you’re so much more fatigued when you don’t know what’s going on because you’re stressed,” Martz said. “However, when you have a better idea of what’s going on, you’re conditioning is better and everything is just better.”
Gordon, meanwhile will spend some time recovering after ankle surgery. He enters his third season and, once he recovers from the surgery, will be healthy for the first time in his young career. Gordon has posted 525 yards and four total touchdowns, but has shown flashes of becoming another threat in the offense.
The Rams are not lacking in depth and talent, but with their superstar running back set to embrace his new role, expect this group to make plenty of noise in 2004. “Maybe up until last year, I was never a guy who did a lot of talking or said a lot of things,” Faulk said. “I kind of got into that role and it’s a different role if you’ve never been a vocal guy who led that way. “What I figured out is you’re either a leader or you’re not. I don’t know that you can learn to become a leader. I think I’m a leader, it’s just that I hadn’t had that opportunity to use my leadership skills.”