Multiple Options at RB
Friday, September 3, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

It might not be safe to call it an embarrassment of riches just yet, but the Rams’ depth at running back appears to be headed in that direction.

After what coach Mike Martz called a disappointing effort running the ball last season, the emphasis has been increased. When the Rams have been at their best, they have had the best of both worlds, throwing and running the ball with equal aplomb. To prove its point, St. Louis ran the ball 45 times against Oakland on Thursday night.

“I am very pleased with the way we have run the ball the last few weeks,” Martz said. “It didn’t make any difference who was in there. To run the football well, was a big deal to me in the offseason. We were not a productive team (last year) running the football. We have to get back to doing some of the things that are basic for this offense.”

St. Louis has four tailbacks that got their share of repetitions in the preseason, each coming away with varying success, but also proving they have what it takes to be anywhere from solid to great in the league. The group was led by future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.

Faulk played in limited snaps in three of the four preseason games, but that was solely in an effort to get him the ball a few times and help his preparation for the regular season. In limited action, Faulk show the burst and pass-catching ability that has made him one of the game’s all-time greats.

There has been, perhaps, no bigger star in the preseason for the Rams than rookie Steven Jackson. Jackson has ripped off big gains using his speed, bulled his way to first downs with his powerful burst and flashed soft hands in catching passes out of the backfield. Jackson was the team’s workhorse in each of the first three preseason games before taking on a lighter load Thursday night against Oakland. The lighter load did not equal less production, though. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Jackson carried 12 times for 72 yards, his most efficient performance.

Jackson’s official coming-out party came against Washington in the third game, a game in which he carried 25 times for 125 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has shown what he can do physically, but still has the occasional mental lapse.
Martz said he tried to work Jackson as much as possible in the preseason to get him ready for the regular season grind.

“You look at Steven in that game when he got tired, mentally,” Martz said. “We did that to him on purpose. And now you get a guy that is used to carrying the load when he is exhausted.”

Lamar Gordon missed most of the preseason after having surgery to remove bone chips in his ankle. The injury plagued Gordon since his junior year at North Dakota State. Gordon played pain-free for the first time in Thursday night’s loss to Oakland and took a major pounding after carrying 22 times for 77 yards and a touchdown.

Gordon proved to be solid in his first few years in the league, but the possibilities for him now that he is healthy, are endless. Add to that mix RB Arlen Harris and the Rams’ immense possibilities at running back, a luxury many teams don’t have.

Martz said he was happy with Gordon’s performance.

“He took some horrendous hits out there on the edge,” Martz said. “I was very impressed with his toughness, the burst he had and the acceleration he showed. He hasn’t been hit at all in four weeks and that is a big deal, but the more we played him, the better he played. I was very pleased with him.”

Harris didn’t have as many opportunities running the ball as his colleagues, but his in the do-it-all roll as fullback, running back, and kick returner.

With the depth at the position and Martz’s commitment to get back to the running game that has been so effective in years past, the Rams’ offense could see a revival of the “Greatest Show on Turf” in 2004.