Jackson primed for Faulk's old job
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Wednesday, May. 18 2005

Mike Riley knows a thing or two about NFL running backs. And the former coach
of the San Diego Chargers enthusiastically predicts great things for the Rams'
Steven Jackson.

"I absolutely do," Riley said. "He's a pretty special guy. He's got some
maturity about him, and he's well-grounded. I think he'll continue to work hard
and continue to improve, and I think that'll make him a star-type player in the
NFL."

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Riley was the coach
at Oregon State in 2003, when Jackson piled up a school-record 2,105
all-purpose yards (1,545 rushing and 470 receiving) for the Beavers. Jackson
completed his junior season - and his college career - by scoring five
touchdowns, which tied an NCAA postseason record, in a 55-14 victory over New
Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl.

So, Riley shouldn't be blamed if he's a bit biased when it comes to evaluating
Jackson. Still, the point remains: He's dominated before, and now he's going to
get the chance to do it at another level.

Coach Mike Martz announced in February that the Rams would head into the 2005
season with Jackson, 21, as their primary back, and Marshall Faulk, 32,
assuming a supporting role.

Jackson, whose locker at Rams Park is just feet from Faulk's, said he expects
no friction to build.

"Marshall and I actually sat down last year, when I was starting to carry the
ball more at the end of the season, and talked about it," Jackson said. "It's
something that we both were anticipating; we just didn't know when it was going
to happen."

Jackson, 6-foot-2, 231 pounds, rushed for 673 yards last season, third among
NFL rookies and second on the team behind Faulk's 774. Jackson averaged just
over 5 yards a carry - more than a yard better than Faulk - and topped 100
yards twice in the last three games in which he appeared: 119 in 26 carries vs.
San Francisco on Dec. 5 and 148 in 24 attempts vs. Philadelphia on Dec. 27.

In between, Jackson sat out two games because of an injury to his right knee.
He had arthroscopic surgery after the season - "just a little clean-up," he
said - and reported after a workout during organized team activities this week
at Rams Park that the knee "feels real good out there."

Getting together with his teammates on the practice field has a new feel,
Jackson said.

"It's different after being designated the No. 1 guy," he said. Plus, as a
sophomore, "I actually know what's going on right now," he said, laughing. "I
can watch Coach yelling at the other guys and not me."

A year ago, Jackson was swimming in the details of the Rams' intricate offense.
He acknowledged that his ego, rather formidable at the time, took a hit.

"I came in thinking I was just so dominating at the college level that I'd be
able to do the same thing here," Jackson said. "But everyone here, they're the
top players at their position. Everyone is just as talented as you are."

He said he learned quickly that to separate himself from the pack, he had to
"outprepare your opponent by getting into the playbook." Now, he said, "I'm
coming in more relaxed and more hungry than ever."

Said Riley: "Steven won't get carried away about who he is and what's really
important. I think that'll help him be recognized as a good player over a
period of time, which I think is the true test in the NFL."

Jackson will be working behind a revamped offensive line. Left tackle Orlando
Pace, right guard Adam Timmerman and center Andy McCollom are back. First-round
draft choice Alex Barron already has been handed the starting job at right
tackle. Left guard figures to be a heated competition, with a couple of rookies
expected to challenge presumed front-runners Rex Tucker and Blaine Saipaia.

The Rams' determination in the offseason to upgrade the line "brings a smile to
my face. But at the same time, we've got to see what they're going to come in
and do," Jackson said. "These young guys - like myself last year - have to
learn how to prepare yourself week in and week out and how to get through the
season."

Preparing to start in the backfield every week won't be require much
adjustment, Jackson assured.

"It's just me coming out on the first play of the game instead of five, six
plays into the game. It's not a big deal," he said.

And, he emphasized, he's not intimidated by the assignment.

"That's what I came here wanting to do, carry the ball," he said. "There's no
pressure that's going to be put on me that I haven't put on myself. The outside
pressure is not the big thing to me, it's me not letting my teammates down.
That's the one thing I don't want to happen. ...

"I'm actually living out a dream. I've actually been named the starter of an
NFL team. Now, I feel like I'm beginning my career."

* * * * * *

Rookie rushing leaders in 2004:

Name, team .... Att. .... Yds. .... Avg. .... TDs

1. Kevin Jones, Detroit .... 241 .... 1,133 .... 4.7 .... 5

2. Julius Jones, Dallas .... 197 .... 819 .... 4.2 .... 7

3. Steven Jackson, Rams .... 134 .... 673 .... 5.0 .... 4

4. Tatum Bell, Denver .... 75 .... 396 .... 5.3 .... 3

5. Mewelde Moore, Minnesota .... 65 .... 379 .... 5.8 .... 0