Jackson Remains Rams' Rock

By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer

After another offseason of jet setting around the globe on trips that took him to Australia, New Zealand, Italy, England and France, Rams running back Steven Jackson couldn’t be happier to be back in St. Louis.

Because for as much culture and excitement as those exotic places provide, it’s here that Jackson gets to do what he loves most: play football.

“Absolutely, this is what we all love to do,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day we all enjoy the camaraderie of our teammates. Some of the best memories that I have are in the locker room and then there’s nothing like competing on Sundays, so to be able to have that back feels good.”

Having just recently turned 28, Jackson is entering his eighth season on the heels of one of the most consistent stretches put together by any running back in the league.

Jackson took hold of the reins of the starting job in 2005 and hasn’t looked back, posting more than 1,000 rushing yards in every season since. Last season, Jackson surged past Eric Dickerson early in the season to become the franchise’s all time leading rusher.

That total stands at 7,948 yards entering the season and only figures to increase as Jackson will again be asked to carry the load from the running back position.

Although Jackson has already achieved almost every major individual statistical goal the Rams have to offer, his focus remains on hitting team goals all while continuing to push the limits of his own statistical accomplishments.

“Our hope is to, like every other team, all 32 teams are shooting for the Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “The first goal is to win the NFC West and me personally, just continue to better myself as a leader, the intangible things make sure that I continue to perfect them; pass blocking, running, catching, and lead this young team by example more and more each year. Now I’m getting to the age where these guys were in high school when I entered the NFL, so I now have a greater responsibility of setting the example than I ever had.”

The leadership role is one Jackson has only embraced and grown in since he became the starter in 2005. By his own admission, he had some maturing and learning to do in his early years but there’s little doubt that he’s the guy the others in the locker room look to for guidance.

Through the difficult years that have hit the Rams in recent seasons – Jackson has only been to the playoffs once, his rookie season – Jackson has been a mainstay in hopes that he can see the rebuilding process through.

The hardships of losing have made him into one of the game’s most passionate leaders and one of Jackson’s ultimate legacies will be what he’s done as a leader in the later years of his career.

“That’s who I am, I think you’ve watched me personally grow,” Jackson said. “I just want to make sure these guys know that once you get to a dream that you’ve accomplished something that you have probably set your mind to, that it doesn’t stop there and I’m here to show these guys, like the other veterans showed me, how to be a professional on and off the field.”

After the dramatic turnaround that saw the Rams come within an eyelash of winning the NFC West last year, Jackson gets the sense that this team is on the brink of a breakthrough.

Whether that happens or not could weigh heavily on how the Rams’ grasp new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system. McDaniels comes with a reputation for throwing the ball more than running it.

That doesn’t mean Jackson’s role will be limited, just that it might change some.

“The way we use him may be a little different too this year,” McDaniels said. “Ask him to do a few different things because he’s so talented. He has so many different skill sets that we can utilize on offense that it’s going to be exciting to see the different ways that we can use him.”

If that means Jackson is used in the passing game more than the running game, it’s certainly a welcome development for Jackson. He caught 90 balls for 806 yards in 2006, his most productive year in the league.

Since, Jackson hasn’t had more than 51 catches in a season and no more than 383 receiving yards.

“That’s definitely part of my game that I’ve been missing the last couple of seasons,” Jackson said. “I’m looking forward to having that challenge, proving to the rest of the league that I’m more than just a downhill, first and second down kind of running back. I think if anyone could help me re-establish myself as a franchise back, an all around back, I think Josh will do that.”

For his part, Jackson says he was impressed with what McDaniels brought to the table from the first time they met.

“One of the first things he said to the offense was that we are going to come out and establish our identity about playing fast, executing, and that he’s going to learn what we do best and we’re going to perfect it,” Jackson said. “I was very impressed when he said, ‘learn what we do best,’ and not try to force something that he may want to do. That told me that he is very understanding, very open to evaluating the talent that he has around him and use it to his advantage in his playbook.”

Having seen what Jackson can do, McDaniels is well aware that Jackson can do a little bit of everything and that’s what he’s hoping to have him do in 2011.

McDaniels has worked with his share of elite players in the league but has never employed a running back of Jackson’s caliber, which should allow for some creative and interesting uses of Jackson.

“He’s got all the skills that you’d like a running back to have,” McDaniels said. “He can receive the ball out of the backfield. He certainly can break tackles. He’s a great runner, and as many ways as we can possibly utilize that player this year, that’s hopefully what we’ll do. We’ll maximize him and keep him fresh.”