By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Aug. 27 2004

Only three players in NFL history have scored more touchdowns than Marshall
Faulk. Only five players have more yards from scrimmage. Just 13 have more
rushing yards. So there is no doubting Faulk's greatness, or his eventual spot
in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But over the past two seasons, Faulk's rushing totals have decreased while his
number of knee surgeries mounted. From a career-high 1,382 rushing yards for
the Rams' 2001 Super Bowl team, Faulk dipped to 953 yards in '02. In 2003, a
season in which Faulk missed a career-high five games due to injury, the total
dropped to 818 yards.

But for those questioning Faulk's future in the game at age 31, Rams defensive
captain Tyoka Jackson has this message:

"Keep doing it," Jackson says. "Keep saying all that stuff. 'Marshall's old.
He's done.' Keep saying it. And just watch and see what happens."

Just don't say it to Faulk.

When an out-of-town reporter recently asked Faulk if he could get back to his
former level of play, Faulk shot back: "I never thought I left."

Faulk followed up by asking the reporter: "Hey, how long have you been doing
this? Does your finger hurt? Does your hand hurt from writing?"

Of course, taking notes doesn't normally involve gang-tackling, collisions or
pass- blocking, something Faulk has been a part of for 10 NFL seasons - going
on 11.

But Faulk is a fiercely proud man, and he has earned that right based on his
career accomplishments. Doubts?

"It's hard to doubt greatness," said running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery,
once an elite back himself. "Any time someone achieves what he has achieved,
it's hard to put a question mark on it, hard to say, 'Hey, I doubt that this
guy can do it.'

"Marshall is going to be the guy to tell us when he can't do it. I go in every
day, and every practice, every meeting, knowing that he's the guy. And that he
can do it."

And now, with the regular season quickly approaching, it's just about time to
do it again.

"I'm grinding away at it, getting back into the flow of things," Faulk said
after his preseason debut Monday in Kansas City. "There's a conditioning factor
that I'm working on. . . .You never know in this offense until your number's
called five, six, seven times in a row if you are in the condition you want to
be. But that's something that's going to come as I get my carries throughout
the preseason, and throughout the year."

The Rams have brought Faulk along carefully in training camp and the preseason.
But in consultation with Faulk, coach Mike Martz has increased his workload
considerably over the past two weeks.

"He's done more work in the preseason now and practice then he's done since
I've been here," Martz said. "He's further along than he's ever been at this
point in the season."

However, not even Faulk is ready to say conclusively how his right knee will
hold up through the wear-and-tear of another NFL season. Not after undergoing
surgery twice in the past 11 months - once early in the '03 season and once
early in the offseason.

"I'm OK," Faulk says, mildly optimistic about what has transpired so far.
"After some regular-season games, some touches with the ball, then I'll
evaluate it. It's kind of early to evaluate things right now."

To date, the early returns have been encouraging to those around him.

"He's looking better and better," safety Aeneas Williams said. "Obviously,
Coach (Martz) has made sure to ease him into it."

"Marshall looks good to me," Martz told reporters after the Chiefs game. "From
standing on the sideline, it's hard to tell. You guys can probably tell better
than I can. But he looks like he's got his burst and his speed."

It remains to be seen what kind of a workload Faulk will get once the regular
season starts. During his first three seasons with the Rams, he averaged 339
"touches" - on rushing attempts and receptions. But that average has dropped to
273 over the past two seasons, including just 254 last year, which matched his
career low.

Even if Faulk stays healthy, promising rookie Steven Jackson, as well as Lamar
Gordon, could be worked into the backfield mix, making the feature back more of
a time-share position. It has been speculated that Faulk could line up more at
wide receiver this season, in an attempt to isolate him on linebackers and take
advantage of his still-considerable pass-catching skills.

"I would enjoy anything that we can get from Marshall," wide receiver Torry
Holt said. "He can do so much for this football team.

"So if we have to line him up out there in the slot, that'll be great. If we
have to line him up at tailback and give him tosses off-tackle, and he can pick
up 5 or 6 yards, that would be great. Whatever he can give to us this year, I'm
fine with it."

So is everyone else at Rams Park, including a head coach who still thinks Faulk
can weave his magic, and display his old form.

"If we didn't really feel that way, we wouldn't be so committed to it," Martz
said. "Does that make sense? And we are committed to him. I firmly believe with
all my heart that he is that (same) back