By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Dec. 28 2005

When all is said and done for the 2005 season, it will be duly noted that
Steven Jackson's first 1,000-yard season in the NFL didn't come easy.

Early in the season, he played through a rib injury. Over the past couple of
weeks, he has been slowed by a hip pointer - a painful injury that he will
carry into the season finale Sunday in Dallas.

"It's pretty banged up," Jackson said Wednesday. "I'm just taking it day to day
and seeing what we can do. I'm not going to be 100 percent, I know that. It's
one of those injuries that just takes time."

Health issues aside, it has been a season-long struggle for Jackson to get the
football on a consistent basis in the pass-happy St. Louis offense, prompting
him to declare "Give me the ball" in the week leading up to the Minnesota game
Dec. 11.

With one game to go, Jackson sits at 1,046 yards rushing, 320 yards receiving
and 10 touchdowns overall.

Interim head coach Joe Vitt was measured in his response Wednesday when asked
to assess Jackson's play this season.

Jackson has played, "OK," Vitt said. "He's running hard. I think right now,
we're not getting lanes in the running game that are clean, that he can see.
And when there's not a clean running lane, you're not sure where to go. ... But
he's done well. I wish we had blocked better this year on the offensive line
(at times). I made that statement two weeks ago. But he's done all right."

Some fans - and maybe some Rams coaches - were expecting more from Jackson this
year. But 1,000 yards remains a substantial milestone in the NFL, particularly
for a back in his first year as a full-time starter.

"I'm just using this year as a step, and a platform to step up," Jackson said.
"I always try to better my yardage and better my career stats from year to
year."

Reaching the 1,000-yard plateau this season also earns Jackson some money. It
triggered an "escalator" clause in his contract that adds $250,000 to his base
salary in 2008, the final year of the five-year contract Jackson signed with
the Rams out of college. He could add another $250,000 to that base salary if
he tops 1,000 yards rushing in '06, and again if he does so in '07.

No doubt, Jackson plans to do just that. So what does he need to work on
between now and the next season?

"I'll wait for the new coaching staff to tell me that," Jackson said.

With that, Jackson abruptly ended a Wednesday session with the media, turning
his back to reporters and slowly walking away. Jackson, apparently, is tired of
being asked that question. He has been surprised by some of the questions -
from both inside and outside the media - about his run reads and decisiveness
in hitting holes this season.

Such is the fishbowl life of an NFL running back. Particularly if you're
following a future Hall of Famer such as Marshall Faulk in the backfield. But
there is no doubt that Jackson's teammates are firmly in his corner, as their
lead back of the present and the future.

"I think he's done a really good job," center Andy McCollum said. "He's
learning. And he's only going to get better, obviously, with the talent that he
has. We've seen flashes of it throughout the year.

"We've had struggles on offense. At times we really weren't giving him the ball
that much. And other times, we didn't block well enough for him. There's lots
of reasons for why he didn't do better than he did. But he did an admirable job
when he was getting the ball and doing what he had to do. You can see that he's
going to be a great one coming up here pretty soon."

Even with those struggles, Jackson's rushing total this season is the best
among the 19 running backs taken in Jackson's draft class in 2004. On Sunday,
he faces the second-most productive runner this season from that draft class in
Julius Jones of Dallas. Jones enters the game with 958 yards rushing.

It was coach Bill Parcells and Dallas, remember, that passed on the chance to
take Jackson in the '04 draft. The Cowboys traded down from the No. 22 overall
spot with Buffalo. Jackson fell to the Rams a couple of spots later, and the
Cowboys took Jones in the second round.

Asked last month if that would give him extra motivation when the Rams played
the Cowboys, Jackson replied: "No, not at all. Dallas is just one of 23 teams
that passed on me."

Nonetheless, he'll have a chance Sunday night at Texas Stadium to show the
Cowboys that they took the wrong man. Sore hip and all.


Head of the class

Steven Jackson has the most rushing yardsamong running backs in the draft
class of 2004:

Player--------Team----Yards

Rushing

Steven Jackson---Rams-----1,046

Julius Jones-----Cowboys----958

Tatum Bell-----Broncos-----869

Mewelde Moore--Vikings-----605

Kevin Jones-----Lions------586

Greg Jones-----Jaguars-----575

Michael Turner---Chargers----336

Chris Perry-----Bengals-----269