Rams put the run to work
BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
08/30/2009

Preseason or not, trends in exhibition play often spill over into the regular season. And if there's one thing the Rams have been consistent with offensively this August, it's a willingness to run the football and stick with the run throughout a game.

Beginning with the preseason opener against the New York Jets, the Rams have run the ball 29 times, then 30, then 31 times in their three contests. So far this preseason, the Rams actually have more running plays (90) than forward passes (85). If that trend holds up for one more game, it'll be only the second time the Rams have had more runs than carries in a preseason in 14 years.

"That's the identity we're trying to create," right guard Richie Incognito said. "Physical up front and get the running game going. So they're dialing it up, and letting us really get behind our pads and get in a rhythm. With the running game, you can't start calling it and then get away from it later in the game. You've got to dial it up early and keep it coming."

And that's basically what offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, with input from head coach Steve Spagnuolo, has been doing throughout the preseason, albeit with varying success from game to game.

Samkon Gado's 77-yard touchdown run against the Jets helped spike the rushing total in that game to 193 yards the second-highest preseason total for the Rams since the move to St. Louis in 1995.

The going was much tougher the following week against a shifting Atlanta front that employed a lot of run blitzes. The totals that night: just 79 yards total and 2.6 yards per carry.

"Atlanta does a lot of things ... that we haven't really seen yet, and we really struggled with," Incognito said.

But Cincinnati played more base defense, in the traditional 4-3 alignment, and the Rams were able to get in more of a rhythm. The results weren't spectacular 102 yards rushing and a 3.3 average but it was an improvement from the Falcons game.

"There were times there when you didn't think we were running the ball real well, and then we'd shoot a couple guys through," Spagnuolo said.

And that was with a hodge-podge of players on the offensive line when the starters were on the field. The Rams used Alex Barron and Adam Goldberg at left tackle, and Goldberg and Jason Smith at right tackle at various times Thursday in Paul Brown Stadium. With Jacob Bell missing his second game with a concussion, there was a timeshare at left guard as well between Mark Setterstrom and John Greco.

That shuffling isn't helping the overall production. But Bell returns to practice Sunday, and eventually, the line will settle into the same five starters. (At the moment, Adam Goldberg is still holding off Jason Smith at right tackle.)

And effective Sept. 13, the regular-season opener in Seattle, Steven Jackson moves into the feature back role in the offense. Through three exhibition games, Jackson has only 11 touches on 10 carries and a reception.

That's a far cry from his rookie year of 2004, when he had 74 preseason touches (66 carries, eight catches). But it's a lot more than the past two preseasons, when he was either holding out or put in mothballs by Scott Linehan. Jackson didn't have a preseason carry in '07 or '08, and had only two catches.

But even before the Cincinnati game, Jackson declared his state of readiness for the regular season.

"I am ready," Jackson said. "I feel like we've been practicing forever; it goes back to March, you know. Although we haven't been in front of a live audience, we've been going at this for quite a while."

At the same time, Jackson is aware of the big picture.

"We've got to make sure that we go through the process," he said. "I've learned that training camp is a necessary evil. It allows for us to build that chemistry as a team, get the identity of the team, what we're going to be for that year. I understand all that. It also allows coaches to evaluate talent. But I do want September to hurry up and get here as well."

September is almost here, and when the real games start, Jackson should be plenty busy. But first comes the preseason finale Thursday against Kansas City. Most coaches throttle down considerably on playing time for their starters in the fourth preseason game. They don't want to risk injury so close to the regular season, so Jackson might not play at all.

"He sure looks ready to go," Spagnuolo said. "And he's been a consummate pro. It's not easy for a competitive guy like that to be standing on the sideline when everybody else is playing. But I ask him to just bear with us. There's a plan, you know, there's a reason why we're doing it."