Steven Jackson - Hitting The Reset Button

Mike Donnelly

Steven Jackson - Hitting The Reset Button

Since the St. Louis Rams' disappointing 6-10 finish last year, all Steven Jackson has wanted to do is find a way to press a reset button and start over again. With NFL training camps underway, Jackson's chance to hit reset has arrived, and once again he will try to establish himself as one of the league's premier running backs.

"This year, I think it (last season) really prepped me to know what to expect as a starter and the expectations that I have for myself and my team," said Jackson. "I'm coming into this season a lot more relaxed. I feel more confident than ever."

The Rams have long been labeled as the greatest show on turf, dominating opponents with a potent offense that led St. Louis to the postseason for seven consecutive seasons (1998-2004), until finally being shut out of the playoffs last year. With the crafty Marshall Faulk stepping into a reserve role, last season was to mark the emergence of a power running game featuring Jackson that could complement the Rams' aerial attack.

"It was a lot of fun but we had some bumps in the road like losing our (head) coach in the middle of the season," said Jackson regarding his performance last season in his first year as a full-time starter in the NFL. "Of course with Marshall still being there I had a lot of pressure facing me."

Just about everyone including Jackson himself, thought the likelihood of the Oregon State standout reaching the 1,500 yard rushing mark as the Rams' primary running back would be feasible. But Jackson failed to meet the expectations of the breakout season he so desired, as injuries to key players and unexpected absences ended up altering the way Jackson was originally intended to be utilized on offense.

Jackson ran for 1,046 yards on 254 attempts during 15 games as the starting tailback. His average of 17 carries per game, however, wasn't near the amount of carries that a ballcarrier expected to be the team's workhorse should've received. In terms of yardage and rush attempts, Jackson's totals may not have been what he was seeking, but he was able to become the first Rams rusher to gain over 1,000 yards in a season and also collect over 250 carries since Faulk last reached both marks in 2001.

"I had a 1,000 yard rushing season which is remarkable in itself without some key guys at times," said Jackson. "Marshall didn't play a lot, Marc (Bulger), Torry, (Holt) and Isaac (Bruce) all went down, so a lot of times I had to get my 1,000 yards without a lot of guys normally in the starting role with me."

Following in the footsteps of Faulk, a three-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year winner, seven-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer, would make most young backs feel insecure. Jackson, selected by the Rams in the first-round (24th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft instead remained confident but also patient throughout his rookie year, despite Faulk's decline in performance. Jackson came to value the time spent working with Faulk and is using it to further develop his own game.

When asked what he's learned from Faulk, Jackson says, "Not so much about physical things because we're two totally different guys. More of preparing myself week in and week out over a long season, trying to break down film and wanting to know every position on the field like he knows. Every play he knows exactly what everyone's doing. I'd like to get to that part of the game of knowing things before they happen."

Faulk's style as a quick and shifty runner with great receiving qualities was suited perfectly in the offense used by former Rams head coach, Mike Martz. Jackson at 6-2, 231 pounds, is much larger than Faulk, but certainly had the ability to thrive in Martz's offense as well. Jackson punishes defenses with his strength and speed. The common trait that allows them both to flourish however is their versatility.
"My speed and power with the size that I have is very unique in itself. I feel that I'm a slasher, not necessarily a downhill guy."

"I get a lot of comparisons to Edgerrin James but of course I'm a bigger back than Edgerrin," said Jackson. "My speed and power with the size that I have is very unique in itself. I feel that I'm a slasher, not necessarily a downhill guy. A lot of people like to stereotype me as that because of my build but I can get around the corner, as well as take some things back and make things happen."

With Scott Linehan tapped as the Rams' new head coach, the number of running plays being called in St. Louis should noticeably increase. Even though Linehan's offenses have often been praised for its passing, his ability to manage a balanced attack is also well documented.

"Offensively it's not too different (this season)," said Jackson. "Last year coach Martz's offense was a little exotic and we were known for big time passing plays. But this year the offense is kind of similar but a notch down because we're incorporating more running."

Now that Faulk has announced he'll be sitting out the entire 2006 season to recover from a knee injury, Jackson will have some comfort in knowing he's the outright number one guy in the Rams backfield. Add the fact that Jackson has a fresh start in a new offense with new coaches, this season should offer the third year pro a prime opportunity to shoulder the load and make a name for himself in the NFL.

"That's something that I've been asking for," said Jackson on becoming the Rams' workhorse in 2006. "With this new coaching staff, especially with coach Linehan being in pass offenses like Minnesota and Miami, running with the ball is something that he wants to do and is good at coaching. I really feel like this will be the year that I'm featured and we'll make things happen in the air as well as the ground."