Jackson still has much to learn
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
MACOMB, Ill. - Before Steven Jackson arrived in Macomb two weeks ago, the running back's NFL experience consisted of one weekend at the Rams' post-draft rookie minicamp.
So he's way behind. Behind the other rookies; behind the younger running backs on the depth chart; and light years behind Marshall Faulk. Two weeks into his first NFL training camp, Jackson still is playing catch-up.
"With this offense, my head's probably going to be spinning for a while until I really get comfortable in it," Jackson said. "Once I get comfortable with this offense, that's when my true talent can take over. But until then, I'm going to be thinking and trying not to mess up."
By NFL rule, Jackson couldn't participate in offseason work with the team, other than the rookie minicamp, until his college's senior class graduated. In the case of Oregon State, Jackson's school, that didn't happen until mid-June.
By then, the Rams were shutting down their offseason program for the summer, giving players and coaches some down time before heading to Macomb.
Much to the chagrin of Martz, Jackson also decided to skip a rookie session held at Rams Park just before the start of training camp.
In any event, Jackson arrived cold - stone cold in terms of knowing the playbook.
"He's still green at it," running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said. "He's got a lot to learn. The adjustments are coming. We're going to ride him really, really hard, because we want him to be at his best."
A lot to learn
For now, the Rams want Jackson humble and hungry. So far in camp, Martz hasn't missed a chance to prod Jackson whenever he felt it was necessary.
During one practice session, when Jackson apparently lined up in the wrong spot, Martz bellowed: "What are you doing out here, sleepwalking?"
On Friday, during the joint practice sessions with the Bears, Martz hardly proclaimed Jackson game-ready.
"We still have to give him run reads, and let him know what's going on with some things," Martz said. "He's a long ways away. He is a long, long, long, long - let me say that one more time - l-o-n-g ways away from lining up and being effective."
Jackson has taken the rookie hazing in stride.
"I prepared for it mentally and physically this offseason and summer," Jackson said. "I had my dad yell at me a couple times."
Jackson laughed at his joke, then added, "Everything that he's thrown out to me, I'm dealing with it pretty well. I know it's for the best. When he stops yelling at me, that's when you start worrying."
Some of Martz's bombast is done as a way of keeping the first-round draft pick's head in check.
"Yeah, it looks good for (the) camera," Jackson said, laughing again. "I understand the whole thing. But no, Coach Martz is a great coach and I'm just having fun with it. I'm actually here, I made it to the NFL, so it's just a dream to me and I'm just enjoying every moment of it."
Jackson got his first taste of game-like conditions as an NFL player in Saturday's scrimmage against the Bears. His rushing numbers weren't eye-popping, with seven carries for 21 yards, although he showed some flashes of what's expected to come.
"He's running a little bit high; he's a little tentative," Martz said. "You could see that there's a difference in that with Arlen (Harris) and Steven. Arlen takes that ball and he's out of there. He's gone.
"Steven's still trying to learn our offense, and the blocking and all those things. There's so many things going around his head right now. In defense of him, too, we have really loaded him up with repetitions here this last week. And he's pretty much hit the wall physically."
But Jackson displayed some of his open-field speed in the scrimmage, turning a dump-off pass from Jeff Smoker into a 22-yard gain. He showed good cutback ability on a few runs. Jackson may not always know where he's going yet. Or why he's going there. But it's already clear that he has the running instincts to be a successful NFL back.
"I wasn't the first running back (drafted) for no reason," Jackson said. "I don't mean to brag, but ... Once you get that ball in your hands, natural ability takes over, and you've just got to react to the defense. Once I learn my reads, and how the actual play works, I think a lot of Steven Jackson is going to come out later on."
Once that happens, the Rams will have a nice addition to their cast of skill players. His teammates already can envision the possibilities.
"I think Steven's going to be good for us," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "The kid can move very well. He can catch it good, too. I didn't realize he could catch the ball as well as he can.
"I think Coach (Martz) will do a good job of putting him in position to help this football team. Spare Marshall some minutes. And Marshall can teach him. So I think they'll be able to feed off each other."
And as Montgomery points out, Jackson doesn't have to be the man in the Rams' backfield. At least not now.
"We're not asking him to be the chef and just do everything," Montgomery said. "We just want him to be able to bring a dish to the table. Just bring a side dish to the table - and we can go from there."
Tale of the tape
Steven Jackson Marshall Faulk
RB Position RB
22 Age 31
231 Weight 211
6-2 Height 5-10
Rookie NFL Exp. 10 years
Re: Jackson still has much to learn
The best part is he seems to know the game. He knows he has a lot to learn. It's unfortunate that he didn't make more offseason stuff, but it may serve as an eye opener. I'm excited about this pick for sure.