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Star running back relishing role with rebuilding Rams

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  • Star running back relishing role with rebuilding Rams

    Star running back relishing role with rebuilding Rams
    By Steve Wyche |
    Senior Writer

    As the losses have piled up around the NFL, so has the zaniness.

    Winless Tampa Bay is on its third quarterback. Kansas City running back Larry Johnson blasted his coach on Twitter, then zipped the same gay slur on back-to-back days for public consumption, leading to a suspension. Washington took everything but his title from coach Jim Zorn (pride included). Tennessee underwent an owner-ordered quarterback change.

    In Cleveland, owner Randy Lerner promised changes and started by bouncing the general manager this week. Fans met with the owner about their dissatisfaction with the team. The starting tailback said he'd rather retire after the season than come back to this, with this being a team that is the current leader in NFL dysfunction.

    In St. Louis, though, there hasn't been a peep. The Rams got their first win last week over, a 17-10 decision over Detroit after starting 0-7, but there hasn't been any uproar, firings, player outbursts or tales of coaching tyranny. It's not because of apathy or because they play in a small market, or anything like that.

    Things are moving along under the radar because first-time coach Steve Spagnuolo has been totally up front with his players and coaches about his plan and he's stuck to it with the backing of management and everyone else he's come into contact with. His forthrightness has allowed players on a roster with junior-varsity talent to compete without complaint.

    "All the way back in OTAs, coaches asked us to buy into the vision and that's building a high-character team," running back Steven Jackson said. "It's all about team. You put yourself behind the team. We're going through a transition of who fits the scheme, who are the guys the coaches feel they can build a solid foundation with.

    "What we have here is a strong leader as a head coach. Him and our GM (Billy Devaney) have a vision and there's no grey areas. They tell you this is where we're headed. Even if you dislike it, there's no question he knows what he's doing. That makes the road easier."

    That Jackson, 26, has bought in so thoroughly is huge, and is refreshing in this era of guys begging out of bad situations to coattail onto a better situation.

    I asked Jackson (who is second in rushing in the NFL, if you haven't noticed) if he felt he was wasting his prime years toiling for a franchise that has been among the worst in the league the past few years.

    "Not at all," he said. "I want to feel the momentum and enjoy it when we turn this thing around. I want to be able to look that guy in the eye and know we share common tears of joy or whatever that moment brings. I want to know me and this person have worked through this together. I don't want to go to another organization where I don't know anyone or hold the Lombardi Trophy where I didn't really build things. I don't think it would mean as much after I've put in so much work here."

    You can be as cynical as you want about his feelings on toiling through the futility, but his effort and production on the field seem to back up what he's saying. It's hard to be cynical about that.

    One more thing on the Rams
    There has been speculation as to whether this will be quarterback Marc Bulger's last year with the team, especially with him being owed $8.5 million next season. I've been told that Rams management hasn't begun that evaluation process yet.

    However, Bulger's retention could very well rest on the fact that St. Louis has so many other needs to fill that it could try to address those concerns before getting to the quarterback situation. Then again, if St. Louis feels the right quarterback is available, they could address those other needs after it replaces Bulger.
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