By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friday, Sep. 08 2006

Dissatisfied with what he felt was a light workload last season, running back
Steven Jackson plaintively expressed his frustration by taping a newspaper
headline over his locker. It read, "Give me the ball."

How things have changed at Rams Park since then. Pass-happy coach Mike Martz is
gone, Marshall Faulk is working for the NFL Network, and new coach Scott
Linehan has promised to grant the 6-foot-2, 231-pound Jackson his wish.

Their relationship is blossoming, Jackson said, and at just the right time: The
Rams open the regular season Sunday against Denver at the Edward Jones Dome.

"He's asking me ... what I'm comfortable with in the run calls," said Jackson,
the Rams' first-round draft choice in 2004. "He's not just going to call it one
way and make me do just the things that he wants to do. We're able to
communicate. I think it's great, how we're bonding."

The 2005 season was bittersweet for Jackson. Although he topped the 1,000-yard
mark for the first time, his total of 1,046 ranked him 14th in the NFL. His
average of 4.1 yards a carry was 17th best, and he struggled with injuries to
his hip and sternum, prompting questions about his sturdiness.

Linehan, who has vowed to apply balance to the offense, has expressed no doubts
about Jackson, though. "His time has come," Linehan said. "He's going to be a
workhorse."

Balance, Jackson said, "is the key to us winning, I think, and we have the
talent to do so in both passing and running. We have to keep the defense
guessing and not allow them to make us guess."

With an increased presence comes greater expectations, especially after his
pleas for more work, Jackson acknowledged. Still, he bristled at the suggestion
that he's facing added pressure.

"There's no pressure ... no pressure. We're making a big deal out of nothing,"
Jackson said. "I was a 1,000-yard back, I'm going to continue to be a
1,000-yard back. The things that we're going to do up front is key. I'm not a
guy that can make 11 guys miss; that's not what I do. What I do is, I control
the ballgame and I move the chains."

The Broncos should provide a barometer of sorts for Jackson; they finished
second in the league against the run in '05.

"It's a key challenge for me personally," he said. "I'm facing a defense that
was in the AFC championship (game) last year, with some Pro Bowlers on that
side of the ball. I get to use my measuring stick right away. ...

"I think it's a great way to start off, because there's a lot of uncertainty
over what our team is going to do. If we come out with a 'W,' it's no more,
'Are the Rams for real?' We are for real."

McDonald will return punts, Reed kickoffs

Although little doubt remained, Linehan made it official Thursday: Shaun
McDonald will be the primary punt return man and J.R. Reed will be the No. 1
kick returner Sunday.

"We'll still have Kevin (Curtis) available and we've worked a little bit with a
couple of other guys," Linehan said. "That's kind of how we're going to start,
and we'll go from there."

Rams get more time to avoid local blackout

The Rams received approval from the NFL to push back the deadline for a sellout
of Sunday's game 24 hours, until noon today. Fewer than 500 tickets remained as
of Thursday night. In their request, the team cited the Labor Day holiday for
slowing sales. Only sold-out games can be televised locally.

Ram-blings

The Rams' first injury report of the season listed no one -- all players
practiced Wednesday and Thursday
. ... Reed is wearing No. 32. Cornerback Ron
Bartell, who had 32, has switched to 24.