By Howard Balzer

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It took nearly a month, but Rams running back Steven Jackson was back on the practice field Thursday after holding out 27 days for a new contract. Prior to taking the field, Jackson signed a five-year contract extension through the 2013 season that has been reported to be worth as much as $49.3 million.

Jackson's production could result in the final two years of the deal being voided. If that happens, the value of the four years will be a reported $29.3 million with between $20 and $21 million guaranteed. These numbers have not been confirmed and sources say those numbers are high.

While it appears clear Jackson would have likely received a similar deal had he reported to training camp when it began July 25, he said, ďThatís a decision thatís really hard to make putting yourself in my situation, being a running back and taking a lot of hits. You never know if youíre going to jeopardize (your future). The only safe bet is staying out of harmís way.Ē

Said coach Scott Linehan, Iím very happy that itís over and that we can put this behind us. The whole focus is going to be on what happens in the game Saturday night and getting ready for Kansas City on Thursday and as you do all of this, getting ready for Philly in the opener. We donít have to have that part hanging out there or looming out there.
"It gives us more time than if it had gone another three, four days because thereís a lot of stuff we can get done with Steven leading up till then. He will get plenty of extra work and weíve got a plan for that. Iím very happy it happened now and it wasnít any later.Ē

Jackson took limited reps in practice Thursday and won't play Saturday night against Baltimore. However, he said he is more than willing to play in the preseason finale against Kansas City next Thursday. That game is one where starters often don't play at all.

ďI would love to play in the final preseason game," Jackson said. "I know I missed a lot of time. Whatever game tempo, game action I can get. I will be willing to take a full load if I need to.Ē

Linehan said there is a lot of work to be done in the next 17 days prior to the season opener against Philadelphia. Aside from walk-throughs, there are only six practices remaining before that first game.

ďWeíve got a plan to get him extra work," Linehan said. "Weíve got to get the physical part; itís not like you can replace two-a-days, but you can certainly work him physically to where heís getting himself in shape that way. And heís got to carry his pads probably a little bit more here even on days when weíre not in pads so we can have him get knocked around a little bit.

"Then the conditioning part of the game speed, weíve got to, I donít know if you call them simulated games like you do in baseball, but some things like that that weíll plan on doing to get him more reps than he would get than if we just script him in practice when we do practice. So, we have plans to do some extra things with him even when weíre not practicing to get him some extra time on the field.Ē

Asked if he will be totally ready for the opener, Jackson said, ďI definitely believe so. I promised (president of football operations/general manager) Mr. (Jay) Zygmunt, coach Linehan that I am in great shape. Iím physically in shape. I just have to get used to the hits. Hopefully next week, after this game, I can get some of the scout teams to get after me so I can get used to hitting the ground, taking contact and carrying the ball.

"I just want to make sure that I have the repetitions, muscle memory of plays, that Iím not thinking, Iím just reacting on the go. I really expect that next week is going to be a heavy load for me during practice. Of course, I became frustrated through the process because each practice, each day, I was missing opportunities to become a better football player. Now that Iím here, I think I can really get after it. I missed some critical days, but Iím willing to put in the extra time to make up for it.Ē

Linehan was asked how much can be expected from Jackson against the Eagles. He said. ďWe can get a lot out of him. The planís really not going to be a whole lot different than it would be without his absence, but one advantage is that we have a lot of time spent with the entire group of running backs. They have given us a very quality camp and improved and we feel very, very confident about them being able to, at times, play. Whether that means a series or situations; that we have not determined yet, but all those things would be considered leading up to that game.Ē

Perhaps most important, is that there were all smiles Thursday. Despite the frustrations everyone had to feel, the key players in the soap opera kept things professional.

Asked if he was ever tempted to last out at Jackson, Linehan said, ďNo. I think thatís something Iíve learned. I am an Irishman so I tend to have a little bit of a quick temper. Some of you guys donít know that; I keep it under control. But, in business and this game, Iíve seen it happen and Iíve talked to other coaches and really thereís no upside to being adversarial in these kinds of deals.

"You just have to stay positive; youíve got to focus on who is here and have the trust and faith in the people that are working on getting everything done. It never once felt like it wasnít going to get done and get done in time and itís all behind us now.Ē

Concluded Jackson, "Business is business and I think both parties did a great job of being respectful of one another. No one came out and was dirty publicly like some teams have been toward other players. For both of us to still be able to go in a forward manner and not have that bitter taste in each otherís mouths about of it, I think it really worked out for the best for everyone.

"Of course, there were heated debates on the phone. (But) no one person attacked each other publicly. I still feel the same way about this organization as I did last year, the last game of the season. Iím just glad to still be a part of it and I have faith that I will retire as a Ram.Ē