Jackson Hopes Pro Bowl Trip is First of Many
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
(NOTE: Watch Steven and teammate Marc Bulger compete against the AFC's best in the Pro Bowl Saturday, Feb. 10 at 5 pm (CT) on CBS).
Only two days after completing the finest of his three professional seasons, running back Steven Jackson found himself scoffing at a reporter’s questioning whether he can improve on a year in which he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,334) and earned his first Pro Bowl trip.
When asked why he thought he could do better, Jackson had simple and sound reasoning.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Jackson said. “I’m only 23.”
The possibility of Jackson improving on his 2006 season should be cause for plenty of concern around the league. In his first two seasons, Jackson was in a couple of difficult positions.
In his rookie season, he was the backup to the legendary Marshall Faulk. The following season he was asked to fill Faulk’s rather large shoes as the starter. Of course, in the Rams’ formerly pass-heavy offense, Jackson wasn’t much of a focal point. And though he went over 1,000 rushing yards in 2005, he fell short of his goals.
When the Rams hired Scott Linehan before last season, Jackson found new hope in terms of his role within the offense. Linehan made it clear from day one that he wanted Jackson to be a focal point of the offense along with receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
True to his word, Linehan and offensive coordinator Greg Olson made Jackson the go to source for offense. Instead of simply handing Jackson the ball, Olson and Linehan found ways to involve him in the passing game, a move that paid dividends as Jackson finished with 90 catches.
Although Linehan expected much of his young running back, Jackson’s performance even took him by surprise a bit.
“I don’t think I can put it into words,” Linehan said. “I read the team some numbers and it wasn’t just so much to glorify him as an individual, but I think the team should be proud of the fact that a guy like Steven can basically step out of the shadows of a guy like Marshall Faulk and really take the team on his shoulders.”
Before the season, Jackson set goals of reaching 1,600 rushing yards and 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Clearly, he blew past the 2,000 yard mark with a couple of games to play. He fell just short of the 1,600 yards, but still finished with an impressive tally of 1,528 yards on the ground.
And, after a slow start, he finished with a flourish, ending up third in the league in touchdowns with 16. Simply put, Jackson took full advantage of the increased opportunities to perform as his touches went from 297 in 2005 to 436 in 2006.
“It was never a doubt of ‘Did the organization want me here?’” Jackson said. “It was just a matter of allowing me to get comfortable and do what I’m used to doing. I’m not a scat back, and I knew that given the opportunity to touch the ball 20, 25 times a game, I’d be able to put my offense and my teammates in a position to win the game. I think I’ve proven that when I’ve had an opportunity to touch the ball that many times.”
Indeed. Jackson is known for his combination of size and speed, a combination that would seem to wear down a defense if given the proper amount of chances. And Jackson finished every game and the season as a whole stronger than ever.
In the final eight games of the season, Jackson ran for 837 yards and scored nine touchdowns. A breakdown of his in-game performance is even more revealing. In the fourth quarter of games, Jackson carried 64 times for 330 yards, an average of 5.2 yards per attempt or more than any other quarter.
Looking deeper, Jackson seemed to hit his stride one carries 21-25. He had 32 such carries in 2006 for 175 yards, an average of 5.5 per attempt. Meanwhile, carries one through five averaged 3.8 yards, the lowest of any five-carry total up to 30. In fact, any carry 16 or above averaged at least 5 yards per attempt.
So to say Jackson got better as the game went along is more than just an idea pulled out of thin air.
“This is no knock on any of the backs I have ever played with because I have played with some great ones, but Steven Jackson is I think the best back I have played for,” tackle Todd Steussie said. “Steven has a rare combination of power and size but really what impresses me the most about him is his attitude, his composure…he really doesn’t think of himself as much more than a cog in the overall scheme. He is our MVP and had a fantastic season. To me, he got stronger as the year went along and made even more of an impact and we were smart enough to ride that horse.”
While LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson were racking up their usual astounding numbers, Jackson found a way to slide under the radar. This weekend, he will get a chance to show himself to the football world in his first Pro Bowl appearance.
“It means a lot,” Jackson said. “More importantly, it says that with a young back like myself, there’s more to come. There’s something to build off of. I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself coming back next year. It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
Re: Jackson Hopes Pro Bowl Trip is First of Many
There's no way not to get excited for next year reading this. Hopefully Jackson will be a workhorse that we can lean on for a good 7-8 years into the future, at least, before he starts to slow down - he really looks like the type of player that could anchor an offense for years. To achieve what he has at only 23 is extremely impressive, we don't really need to talk about him improving, if he can just maintain this level of play he will be the man in our offense, if he improves even further that's just icing on the cake.
Very nice stats in this article too, well thought out, it really shows how he improves as he's able to wear down the defense. We all probably knew this but the stats show it quite clearly to any doubters: the more work you give Jackson the more he flourishes. Is the 2007 season starting soon? I can't wait :)
Re: Jackson Hopes Pro Bowl Trip is First of Many
Jackson and Bulger have adapted to Linehan's system very impressively..SJ is a physically strong guy so it makes sense he would become even more effective as the game goes on.. He needed a coach to consistently call his number and not just as a token gesture to keep the defense honest,and Linehan did this giving SJ all he needed to make his mark.He will be a star in the NFL for a long time..:l