Tuesday, August 22, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

The installation of an offense that is more balanced and features more running opportunities was music to the ears of running back Steven Jackson.

Now that the offensive installation of new coach Scott Linehan's system is nearly complete, Jackson is focusing his efforts on improving in one area he admittedly struggled with at times last season.

“I think I am pretty comfortable with the offense,” Jackson said. “I was really focused on the blitz protection and protecting Marc (Bulger). We don’t want him to go down like he did last year. I think I am pretty fine and we are making great strides in that.”

Picking up the blitz was one of the specialties of Marshall Faulk, Jackson’s predecessor as the starting running back. It’s not that Jackson was bad at picking up the blitz in his first two seasons, but he knew it was an area that needed some refinement.

So, what steps has Jackson taken to improve on picking up the blitz?

“Be meaner,” Jackson said, laughing.

That sounds simple enough, but it isn’t exactly how Jackson has made strides in that area. Bulger was lost to a shoulder injury for half of last season, the second time because of a missed blitz assignment.

What has helped Jackson the most in that area is actually a move that was made on the other side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his exotic blitz schemes have put the pressure on Jackson to learn on the go.

“I think I am doing pretty good,” Jackson said. “With Coach Haslett and the defense and their variety of blitzes they have practiced, I think it has helped me a lot to see different things.

“No, you don’t want to be too aggressive in blitz pickups. That’s when guys tend to use your momentum against you and then you’ll see me clapping and you guys are saying ‘Aw Jack.”’

Jackson’s grasp of the offense as a whole is coming along well too, he says. He started the preseason strong with a five-carry, 41-yard outing against the Colts before a small step backward last week against Houston.

Jackson has been slowed the past few days by tendonitis in his heel. He didn’t practice Monday, but did return for some repetitions during Tuesday’s workout.

“Right now I am about 90 percent,” Jackson said. “I had a little small problem with my Achilles for a second, but I have been in there rehabbing pretty tough and getting through it.”

Jackson didn’t suffer the injury on any particular play; rather he says it was from the day to day grind of practices. But, he doesn’t expect it to slow him much over the long haul.

“From my understanding, the doctors told me from the two a days and all of the poundings I was taking, it was a little fatigued,” Jackson said. “Once we get into the regular schedule of the season and I get the rest I need during the week, I’ll be fine.”

HILL GAINS GROUND: Haslett said cornerback Tye Hill was all over the place in his preseason debut against the Colts, flailing his arms and looking somewhat lost at times.

But Hill made a better impression in his second outing against Houston and continues to get plenty of repetitions in practice.

“I thought Tye really looked much better in this game,” coach Scott Linehan said. “It was different, they weren’t using the passing game as much as the team we played before so I don’t know how much more he got tested, but he certainly looked much more comfortable playing in position, and played it right. I really think he upgraded his technique from game one to game two.”

RAM BITS: Defensive end Leonard Little returned to the practice field Tuesday afternoon in limited work in his usual starting spot…Ron Bartell began taking some repetitions with the second team defense at free safety on Tuesday.