Rams' Jackson in search of new ground
By Tom Weir, USA TODAY
ST. LOUIS — As a student of architecture who's planning a trip to Italy next year, St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson knows Rome wasn't built in a day.
But Jackson isn't patient about the delay in his plan to erect a running legacy in the NFL. In nine games last season, he had 17 or fewer carries, and St. Louis was a miserable 1-8 in those contests.
That's why Jackson lets out a laugh when asked whether he's the Ram who's happiest to see Scott Linehan replacing Mike Martz as St. Louis' coach.
"I'll try to say this nicely," said Jackson, putting down a fork in midmeal at the Rams' training-camp cafeteria. "I wasn't happy because Mike Martz was losing his job. I was happy because I felt I was going to get to start my career over."
In the waning years of St. Louis' pass-happy, "Greatest Show on Turf" era under Martz, Jackson felt left out. With 1,046 rushing yards in 15 games last season, Jackson did manage St. Louis' first 1,000-yard running season since Marshall Faulk's in 2001, but he felt there was plenty more ground that could have been gained.
The conflict peaked after a loss to the Washington Redskins on December 4, when Jackson had only 11 carries. Jackson's complaints to the media led to one headline that read: "Give me the damn ball."
Jackson now contends that wasn't an exact quote and says his words "kind of got twisted." But he also added, "I didn't mind."
On his issues with Martz, Jackson said: "We could go back and forth all day. He has problems with me; I have problems with him."
But when reminded that Martz said Jackson needed to be ready to play more if he wanted the workhorse role, Jackson readily admitted, "That's truthful."
Jackson is focused on improving his durability.
"I'm getting that at this camp," he said. "Since we started, it's been full pads every day," even on 100-degree days.
St. Louis will have a more balanced attack than the one that passed 61.2% of the time last season, Linehan said.
New offensive coordinator Greg Olson says much of his planning has focused on "how are we going to make sure Steven Jackson touches the ball 20 times a game? ... I think that's a good starting number."
Entering his third season, Jackson has goals of 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. He makes no secret that he wants the fame that would accompany those numbers.
"I don't need to be a household name because I want to be recognized," Jackson said. "I want to be a household name because I believe I have a gift."
The obvious part of that gift is the bruising style of the 6-2, 231-pound Jackson. In one of only two games in which he carried 25 times last season, Jackson posted a career-high 179 yards vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jackson's obsession with numbers also is made clear by the one he chose for his uniform — 39.
Jackson's father, Steve, suggested No. 39 because that's how many books are in the Old Testament of the Bible. His son wanted it for another reason — because the last big-name feature back to wear 39 was Larry Csonka with the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s.
"If I see a kid wearing 39, I'll know it's because of me," Jackson said.
The combination of Jackson's run-ins with Martz and his dreadlocks hairstyle might lead some fans to assume he's a rebel. But as the son of a Marine veteran from Vietnam, he also has a lot of "yes, sir" and "no, sir" in his vocabulary.
When Jackson proposed getting his ears pierced in high school, his father said, "I already have two daughters. I don't need a third."
Jackson was a National Honor Society member at Eldorado High in Las Vegas, and he has established the Steven Jackson Foundation for Literacy and Education in hopes of reducing Las Vegas' high-school dropout rate.
His major at Oregon State before leaving after his junior season was housing studies. He says he hopes to complete his degree in his hometown, likely by enrolling at UNLV. His interest in architecture was refueled recently by reading a novel set in Italy, Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.
In his first two seasons with the Rams, Jackson said, "I feel like I was fighting two demons" because of Martz's loyalty to Faulk, the seven-time Pro Bowl running back who's out for 2006 with a knee injury.
"I had a chance to be an understudy to Marshall for two years," Jackson said. "I feel like now this is my time."