By Bernie Miklasz
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Aug. 29 2004

Rams fans aren't bashful about jumping on quarterback Marc Bulger. In Friday's
28-3 victory over the Redskins, Bulger got booed on the second offensive
series. The Chris Chandler Fan Club welcomed new members. And it will be that
way all season for Bulger.

Quarterback controversies in St. Louis are old news. We've done that already.
Yawn.

What the town needs is something fresh. What we need is a debate over running
backs. And we will have one soon enough.

Marshall Faulk is the starter. He's a sure Hall of Famer. He's the greatest
football player I've covered. Faulk is also 31. He's lost speed. His surgically
repaired knees could be museum pieces. But Faulk will continue to be the
feature back until he runs out of gas.

Why? Because of Faulk's brains. His ability to read defenses and step out and
pick up blitzers. Because of his sure hands in the passing game. Because of his
winning background. Because of the respect he commands in the locker room. And
because of coach Mike Martz's loyalty to him.

But c'mon, admit it ...

Aren't you excited by the freight train that's pulled into Union Station?

It's the Steven R. Jackson. He's been the Rams' most impressive running back
this summer. And if you're a defender, you'd better clear the tracks. This dude
will flatten you.

"I think safeties get tired of hitting him," Martz said.

Jackson had 25 carries for 125 yards against the Redskins. He's rushed for 251
yards, at 4.6 yards a charge, in three preseason games. And he's caught eight
passes for 34 yards. The Rams apparently knew what they were doing when they
picked Jackson in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft. Jackson already is
leaving some blood on the tracks.

"I'm a rookie," Jackson said, "so teams are trying to intimidate me at first.
That's why I came out so aggressively. I'm trying to set the tempo. I don't
want the defense to set the tempo. Plus, when I run hard it fires my teammates
up."

The question: How long will Faulk keep this train waiting in the station? It's
hard to say. If anything, Jackson may extend Faulk's career by easing Faulk's
workload and punishment. But if Faulk goes down, Jackson appears ready to
barrel in. He busts through small holes. He gets yards after contact. He's a
surprisingly smooth cutback runner, displaying quick feet. And he can haul his
230 pounds around the corner.

What's missing is knowledge of the Rams offense, especially in pass protection.
Jackson makes too many mistakes; he whiffed on a blitz pick-up against
Washington. And he knows it.

"I'm willing to put in the extra hours before practice and after practice to
get better," Jackson said.

That's what Martz wanted to hear. That's why he publicly chastised the rookie
back before training camp. Martz wanted to test the depth of Jackson's hunger
and desire to learn. He didn't want the kid to get comfy on a pile of
signing-bonus money.

"There's such a volume of information," Martz said. "He has no idea. We're
using pretty much the same game plan every week. Wait until we throw that first
(regular season) game plan at him. It'll be a culture shock for him. He really
has to get into this thing. And he does.

"For a rookie to be this far along, with the little preparation he's had, is
pretty remarkable. He's a professional. He's much more mature than I ever gave
him credit for. He's approached this with a great deal of focus, and like a
very mature athlete."

Since they moved here, the Rams have never had a power runner like Jackson.
That extra dimension should give the offense more punch in the red zone, and
more muscle in methodical, ball-control drives.

"When he's carrying the ball, the more you give him the ball, the stronger he
gets," Martz said. "The more you give it to him, the hungrier he gets. He just
keeps rolling."

Unlike recent Rams' No. 1 draft picks, The Steven R. Jackson won't stall at the
station.