By Jim Thomas

Being named to the Pro Bowl underscored the fact that Steven Jackson has stepped out of the shadows of Marshall Faulk. Being voted team MVP provides an exclamation point.

The Pro Bowl vote showed that Jackson had earned the respect of players, coaches and fans around the NFL. The team MVP award, which was announced Wednesday, shows Jackson has earned similar respect in his own locker room. It's voted on by Rams players only.

"It means a lot because your peers picked you your teammates," Jackson said. "But it's kind of funny because without those guys, I couldn't have put the year together that I did put together. There's a lot of guys that are really deserving of the award. So I don't think it was a runaway."

Jackson, in fact, said he voted for quarterback Marc Bulger. But when the ballots were counted, Jackson joined an illustrious list of Rams to win the Daniel F. Reeves Award, which goes to the team MVP. Since the move to St. Louis in 1995, the list has included Faulk (three times), as well as Bulger, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, and wide receiver Torry Holt all twice apiece.

"I don't think it was any secret that (Jackson) wanted to take a big step as far as his ability to help impact our team," coach Scott Linehan said. "It was nothing about personal satisfaction or awards. He felt like with a bigger role, he could help us achieve more. And I believe we're doing that."

With one regular-season game remaining, Jackson already has rushed for more yards (1,386) than any "St. Louis" Rams running back, and has set a franchise record for receptions by a running back in one season (88). Jackson's pass-catching ability has been an unexpected bonus this season.

"I know people around here have been accustomed to watching a running back be able to do both," Linehan said. "In Marshall's heyday, he certainly was a dominant player. I think Steven has taken the challenge of being a pretty well-rounded running back. Maybe a different style (than Faulk), but a similar result. He's backed up everything he wanted to get done and more, I'd say."

When Faulk let it be known last summer that he would not return this season because of continuing knee problems, the Rams had no choice. Jackson had to carry the load in the St. Louis backfield.

"Here's a guy that has certainly shown the ability in college and his first couple years here, but was never really handed the reins so to speak (in the NFL)," Linehan said. "That was certainly a goal that we wanted to accomplish, to be able to basically turn the page (on Faulk), because we knew we were going to be forced into that situation. . . . It's very impressive what he's been able to do in such a short time. He's worked very hard to get there."

In other team awards announced Wednesday, cornerback Tye Hill won the Carroll Rosenbloom Award, which goes to the team's rookie of the year. Safety Corey Chavous won the Carl Ekern Spirit of the Game Award, which recognizes sportsmanship, work ethic, and commitment to teammates.

Some of the Rams' top team leaders have won the Ekern Award in recent years, including linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, defensive back Aeneas Williams, tight end Ernie Conwell, linebacker Mike Jones, and defensive tackles Ray Agnew and D'Marco Farr.

"It's not rah-rah stuff with Corey," Linehan said. "Corey's all about business, and doing things the right way on a daily basis. And he's been a great example for our younger players."

Hill stepped into the starting lineup on a full-time basis Nov. 19 against Carolina, following Travis Fisher's season-ending forearm injury. Despite some ups and downs, Hill has improved noticeably since then.

"I'm just glad that my peers think I've lived up to some of the expectations that have been set upon me by being a first-rounder," Hill said. "I've just got to keep working and hopefully get where (Jackson) and everybody else has gone."

With three interceptions, Hill shares the team lead with cornerback Fakhir Brown and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. Hill also has one fumble recovery and 39 tackles this season.

"The more he's played, the better he's gotten, which is certainly always a great sign," Linehan said. "But he's got a lot of talent, and he's starting to utilize his talent plus his knowledge of the game now."

Hill was selected 15th overall by the Rams out of Clemson last April. But being a first-round draft pick is no guarantee of winning the Rosenbloom Award. In the 12 seasons the Rams have been in St. Louis, Hill is only the sixth first-round pick to win rookie of the year. The others: defensive end Kevin Carter (1995); wide receiver Eddie Kennison (1996); Holt (1999); Jackson (2004); and offensive tackle Alex Barron (2005).

"I don't want to let anyone down," Hill said. "It took a lot for the Rams to pull the trigger on me as their No. 1 pick. To go out there and compete, and help this team win, that's what they brought me in for."