By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
09/08/2005

It was a long seven months ago that Rams coach Mike Martz designated Steven Jackson as his No. 1 running back. Since then, Jackson has had the second Sunday of September on his mind.

"It's been a while, yeah," Jackson said. "This Sunday is going to be full of excitement for me. ... Pregame, I know I'm going to have the jitters. But after a while, I'm pretty sure I'm going to calm down."

Jackson, the team's first-round draft choice in 2004, started three times last year. But until Martz made his announcement in February, Jackson was perched behind Marshall Faulk on the depth chart.

Now, with the 32-year-old Faulk designated for a complementary role, the Rams' running game rests in the hands of Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 231-pound Oregon State product. And he can't wait to reward Martz's trust, starting with Sunday's regular-season opener in San Francisco.

"I have plenty of goals for this year, not only individually, but for the team," said Jackson, 22. "I think we're fully capable of accomplishing those."

Jackson was a bit cagey when discussing his own expectations.

"If I could break 1,000 (rushing) yards, that'd be good. I've never done that," he said. "And 1,500 yards would be an excellent year. Me personally, I want more than that."

Despite playing on a balky knee that was "cleaned up" during offseason surgery, Jackson piled up 673 yards in 134 carries last year, a gaudy 5.0-yard average. He also caught 19 passes for 189 yards.

In the preseason this summer, Jackson had 32 carries for 215 yards, a 6.7 average. Healthy and primed, Jackson said his first assignment Sunday would be keeping his emotions in check.

"That's going to be the biggest thing," he said. "Of course, I want to go out there and make big plays and I want to help my team win. But when you calm yourself down and just let the game come to you, that's when things happen for you."

But will Martz, who loves to throw the ball, truly commit to the running game?

"You never know what to expect from Mike," Jackson said. "It's up to me, when I do have a chance to run, to make something happen. And that's what I plan on doing."

And if he thinks he isn't getting the ball enough, Jackson said he wouldn't hesitate to confront Martz - even early in the game.

"I won't wait till halftime to say it," Jackson said, laughing. "I think a lot of people know how I feel about running the ball."

That's just fine with the coach.

"I'd be disappointed if he didn't do that," Martz said. "That's what he's used to and that's what he wants. And of course, that's what you want in there."

One 49er who might be not be so enthusiastic about seeing Jackson getting the lion's share of the work is safety Mike Rumph. He tried to arm-tackle Jackson last year, and wound up needing two operations and missing the last 12 games of the *****' 2-14 season.

"I remember that play; I see it in my sleep," Rumph told reporters this week in San Francisco. "I remember thinking at the time, 'Why am I doing this?' But I stuck out my arm to try to trip him.

"When I was running off the field, I didn't even want to look at it, because I knew it was bent pretty bad."

Jackson said that although he didn't remember the play, "it's been brought up a lot, especially this week. You never go out intentionally trying to hurt anyone. We all understand this is our livelihood, and guys do want to play.

"What happened to Mike was unfortunate. But that's the game of football."