Faulk stepping aside to aid Jackson
By Jeff Reynolds
June 27, 2005
Mike Martz didn’t call Steven Jackson to alert him of a forthcoming change atop the RB depth chart.
In retrospect, it wasn’t Martz’s call to make.
Frankly, Martz was stunned when Marshall Faulk came to him at season’s end to tell Martz that Jackson would be the starter in 2005. Since 1999, Martz had allowed Faulk to carve his own niche with the team. Faulk decided when he would enter and leave a game and, because his level of preparedness exceeded most of his teammates’ and matched some coaches’, Faulk had some say in how the Rams would attack each opponent.
“Any guy with the accomplishments of Marshall Faulk in this league wouldn’t deal with (a demotion) very well,” Martz said in his office at the team facility west of St. Louis. “But ultimately, this was Marshall’s decision. He talked initially that Steven should be the starter and that he could help him avoid so many of the problems that he had had his first few years in the league.”
At first, Martz was unconvinced that flipping the depth chart — elevating Jackson to the No. 1 spot with Faulk moving down and helping in other areas, such as lining up as a slot receiver — was the right thing to do. Faulk explained further: “I can help (Jackson) avoid those mistakes. With his physical stature, the team would probably be better served if he started.”
So Martz obliged the player he calls the most unselfish athlete he’s ever encountered — and Martz started as a high school coach in Fresno, Calif.
“Marshall didn’t want Steven looking over his shoulder,” Martz said. “He wants to mentor him in the right way, help him as much as he can. Why? That’s what makes (Marshall) different than anyone else.”
Martz didn’t tell Jackson he had become the starter. He chose to let Jackson find out with the rest of the world and now says Jackson was shocked by it. There’s also a feeling among some Rams coaches that Jackson believes Martz doesn’t like him. Players who have seen Martz light blazing fires within some of the most softly stimulated athletes — the self-motivation-challenged — say it’s Martz’s way of telling Jackson he still has a lot to earn and even more to learn. Being announced in pregame introductions with the first-team offense isn’t necessarily reflected on the stats sheet. To a degree, it’s a selflessness test to see how Jackson responds. Faulk, maybe a first-ballot Hall of Famer, is holding the door, without being asked, to the entrance to the NFL’s red carpet.
“The one thing you try to observe with a first-round pick is their nature,” Martz said. “Steven Jackson, because of his success in college, you expect him to come in with an entourage. When he steps on the practice field, every camera, every microphone followed him. You don’t know them well enough yet, so you have to make them understand that when they take the field, he’s no different than anybody else on the field. I think he realizes that now. He’s not carrying the world on his shoulders.”
Martz has some concern that Jackson doesn’t yet fully grasp the opportunity being set in front of him. Not the starting nod, but the right to walk with Faulk shadowing him. For Martz, it’s a chance to get back to the base approach of the offense — as he puts it, to “white-knuckle people and push them off the line,” helping to protect and amplify the passing offense. By no means will Faulk disappear unless his creaky knees force him aside.
“I see a teamwork deal between the two of them,” Martz said. “They’ll be in at the same time, work as a team. Marshall’s role will be more of a receiver. We’ll have them in the same backfield. We can split either of them out — both can catch the ball. Marshall’s role will be as he defines it, basically. If he wants to play 80 percent, basically that is what he’ll do.”