Saturday, December 4, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

The first time the ***** and Rams met, rookie running back Steven Jackson made a statement about what kind of player he could be. This time, he will get the opportunity to show the NFL what he is.

With starting running back Marshall Faulk likely a gametime decision because of a bruised left knee (Faulk is questionable on the injury report), Jackson will get his first chance to get the majority of the work at running back. Faulk sat out practice on Thursday and Friday and will not participate in any practice this week.

Rams coach Mike Martz confirmed that Faulk’s injury will make it difficult to play and Jackson will likely pick up the slack.

“He's going to carry the load this week," Martz said. “We’ve got to give Marshall a chance to recover.”

Faulk is the team’s leading rusher with 683 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He took a hit to the knee against Atlanta on Sept. 19 and left the game for a short period before returning. There were no indications that the knee bothered him soon after that, but it has been apparent in recent weeks, as Faulk has struggled to get anything going on the ground.

Against Buffalo, Faulk gained just 6 yards on 13 carries and Green Bay held him to 7 yards on seven carries. Most of that can be directly attributed to his knee problems, as Faulk gained 139 yards against Seattle on Nov. 14. The left knee is the second knee Faulk has injured. He has had surgeries to repair his right knee.

Marshall has been banged up the last few weeks, and he has been very sore," Martz said. "We didn't manage him very well. We probably played him more than we should have.

Jackson’s opportunity has been a long time in the making. After struggling early in the preseason with blitz pickups and the small nuances of the game, Jackson has come on strong. It became evident as the season went along and Jackson’s workload began to increase. In recent weeks, Jackson and Faulk have essentially shared the carries.
Now, Jackson is ready to take his shot at being the man in the backfield for the Rams.

“I’m very excited,” Jackson said. “This is something I have been waiting on since I joined the organization. I feel that there is a lot of pressure on me right now, but I think I am going to stand tall and I’m going to handle it pretty well.”

If Jackson handles this opportunity as well as he did the first one against San Francisco, he will almost certainly be in for a big day. The ***** are solid against the run, with a stout front seven, but the Rams shredded that group in the first meeting.

Faulk had 121 yards in that game and, in what would be his first coming out party on national television; Jackson ran for 46 yards and scored his first career touchdown on a 24-yard jaunt. Perhaps even more memorable for Rams’ fans, though, was the 8-yard run in the second quarter in which San Francisco cornerback Mike Rumph attempted to arm tackle him. Jackson said Thursday he doesn’t remember that play, but chances are Rumph does. Rumph broke his arm on the play and is out for the season.

All told, Jackson has 377 yards rushing this season with a pair of touchdowns. He leads the team with 5.1 yards per carry.

Martz said Jackson is by no means a finished product, but he is ready to take on the extra work.

"He still has a ways to go just in terms of playing the game, but his knowledge of what we do is fine," Martz said.
Although Faulk is unlikely to play Sunday, it doesn’t mean he can be completely ruled out. It is a safe bet, though, that if he does play his snaps will be limited. In the meantime, Faulk has been instrumental in building confidence in Jackson and teaching him some of the little things about football.

Martz said the recent mix of Jackson and Faulk is good for Faulk and could serve him well to extend his time in the league.

"He knows," Martz said. "He's very aware of his body, and he's aware of Steven's ability and he understands how in order to make it through the season in one piece, this is a good setup. It ultimately could help him prolong his career."
In the meantime, there is plenty of excitement surrounding Jackson. Receiver Torry Holt, for one, is eager to see the former Beaver running.

“He’ll be excited and enthused,” Holt said. “So, he’ll be running like a maniac, which will be good for us.”

As Faulk’s career begins to wind down, Jackson’s is only beginning and his biggest test comes Sunday.

GRIZZ SET TO GO: Martz was unsure about the status of his defensive tackle position heading to this weekend, but there are plenty of indications that Jimmy Kennedy will get a chance to make his first NFL start.

Brian Howard, who started at tackle against Green Bay, said Thursday he thought Kennedy would get the nod against the *****. Kennedy was unsure of his status for the weekend, but said he would be ready to go either way.

“They had me up there, but since I came back we have had a weird rotation,” Kennedy said. “One day I am with the ones, the next day I am with the threes. It’s just practice right now.”

The second-year player out of Penn State missed most of training camp when he broke his right foot on Aug. 5. He returned to action on Nov. 7 against New England. In that game, he made three tackles and followed that with three more against Seattle the following week.

Kennedy had what was probably his best game as a pro last week against Green Bay, making five tackles and continuing to improve from week to week. It is that kind of improvement every week that has put him in position to make his first start.

Kennedy said he won’t know that he is starting for sure until he gets word from above, though.
“I’m not really thinking about it,” Kennedy said. “I’m just going out there trying to practice, get better every day and whatever happens, happens.”

INJURY REPORT: There were no changes to the injury report Friday. Receiver Isaac Bruce (wrist), safety Adam Archuleta (back) and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (knee) are probable.

Faulk and safety Aeneas Williams (neck) are questionable. Cornerback DeJuan Groce (knee) is doubtful and guard Chris Dishman (knee) is out.

Faulk, Bruce, Dishman and Groce did not practice Friday.