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Matured Jackson piling up big yardage, respect in shadows

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  • Matured Jackson piling up big yardage, respect in shadows

    Nov. 10, 2009
    By Cameron Hollway
    Special to

    EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Unless you're a diehard Rams fans, you probably aren't aware of the season -- or career -- that Steven Jackson is having. Other than "SJ39," there hasn't been much reason to watch this team.

    As the Rams have piled up loss after loss after loss -- 17 in a row before they knocked off Detroit in Week 8 -- Jackson quietly has been putting together his best NFL season. Midway through the year, he's on pace for 1,568 yards, which would surpass his career-best of 1,528 set in 2006. He's 3 yards behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson for the league lead in yards from scrimmage with 970.

    Jackson is averaging 4.8 yards per carry despite being the focus of defenses. (Getty Images)
    "I just wish we were winning more games so the whole league and country could see how great a player he is," quarterback Marc Bulger said of the Rams, who are 1-7. "Everyone knows it, but he flies under the radar because of that. If we can start winning some games I think he'll start getting the recognition he deserves."

    If Jackson keeps putting up consistently strong numbers, he will be impossible to overlook. Consider:

    Jackson, 26, has started 57 games in his career (he has missed nine games to injury and was a backup to Marshall Faulk most of his rookie season). In the history of the NFL, among players who have started 57 or fewer games before turning 27, Jackson is No. 1 in career rushing yards, with 6,075 -- and he has eight more games before turning 27 in July.

    Take out the games-started criteria, and Jackson is 18th all-time in rushing yards through his age-26 season, again with eight games to go.

    If he were to match his first half of 784 yards in the second half, he would climb to 10th on that list, bumping Faulk. The top 10 is a who's who of NFL backs: Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Jim Brown, Jerome Bettis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Faulk.

    Select company, indeed.

    "Historians will have to evaluate all that," said first-year Rams running backs coach Sylvester Croom, who was the offensive coordinator at Detroit in 1997 when Sanders ran for a career-high 2,053 yards. "With the ball in his hands there's not much better than Barry and a guy like Gale Sayers.

    "I've talked to Steven about being more of a Walter Payton type. Walter could do anything, and so can Steven. It's rare to find a man Steven's size (6-feet-2, 235 pounds) who can line up wide and run routes. We try to get him the ball out in space. Steven's developed into a complete player."

    In his breakout season of 2006, when Jackson had 2,334 total yards and 16 touchdowns, he had a lot of help. Orlando Pace and Adam Timmerman anchored a veteran offensive line, and Marc Bulger threw for 4,301 yards, with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce winding down their "Greatest Show on Turf" highlight reels. Fast forward to 2009, and the youthful Rams have ... Steven Jackson.

    Yet despite being THE player that opposing defenses focus on, Jackson is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, a half-yard better than the 4.3 career number he brought into this season. In the past two games, against Indianapolis and Detroit, he has rushed for 134 and 149 yards, and he's starting to hear his name being discussed as one of the league's elite players.

    "It's meaningful," he said. "But we still have a lot of work to do around here. We want to be a winning organization. We don't want to get kudos sparingly. ... We have some talented guys around here. We've just got to grow up. We're a team that's learning how to win."

    The Rams, who are coming off their bye week, host 8-0 New Orleans on Sunday. They'll try to control the clock against the Saints' 19th-ranked run defense, pounding Jackson much as they did in crunch time against the Lions. With the outcome in the balance in the fourth quarter at Detroit, Jackson had nine carries for 82 yards, including a 25-yard TD burst that was the winning score. Big chunks: 7 yards, 11, 10, 5, 17, 25 ... only two of the nine carries gained less than 5 yards.

    "Seventeen games is a long time," Jackson said of the losing streak he helped snap. "And that game was too close to let get away. ... I was willing to give everything I had to make sure we won the game."

    Jackson is in the second season of a six-year, $44 million contract that he signed after holding out before the 2008 season, and the Rams have decided to build around him. In the offseason, they invested in a good center, Jason Brown, 26, as well as fullback Mike Karney and tight end Billy Bajema, both considered outstanding blockers.

    With the No. 2 overall pick in April, they drafted Jason Smith out of Baylor. Smith starts at right tackle now but is likely to find a home on the left side after this season, a free-agent year for starter Alex Barron. They love their guards, Richie Incognito, 26, and Jacob Bell, 28, and believe they have the nucleus for a line that has and will continue to get better as it grows up together.

    As the Rams have loaded up around Jackson, he has reciprocated by becoming accountable as a leader, a trait the team didn't know he had before this season. Jackson has been quick to praise teammates, unwilling to gauge his success in light of the team's struggles, is a full-fledged believer in first-year coach Steve Spagnuolo's system and has become one of the harder-working players on the team.

    Contrast that to the half-cocked, boastful player the Rams drafted out of Oregon State with the 24th pick in 2004. During his rookie season he complained of playing time, trying to bump the aging Faulk out the door.

    "Over the next couple of years, I'm trying to separate myself from Marshall," Jackson said then. "Only one guy can be on the field at one time. Two, three years from now, if I haven't done that, then that must say something about my level of play."

    In December 2007, Jackson was critical of Rams fans who sold their seats to Packers fans for a home game (the Rams were 3-10 at the time). And in September 2008, he publicly criticized coach Scott Linehan's decision to bench Bulger in favor of Trent Green.

    Croom had heard the rumors, did his homework when considering the job, then decided to start with a "clean slate" with Jackson. He said he has been pleased with the player and person.

    "He'll be the first to tell you he's still working on some things emotionally, knowing when to say things as well as how to say things. Understanding that what he says affects the other players," Croom said. "I knew he was a good running back. But he studies the game, he's very intelligent, and his work ethic has been totally different than some of the things I'd heard about. ... He's a great player and wants to be the best there is. I feel like it's my job to help him reach that goal."

    The main criticism of Jackson is that he isn't reaching the end zone, with just the one TD this season. But Jackson has had only five carries inside the opponents' 10-yard line, and he has never been a breakaway back, as his career-long run of 59 yards would suggest. He has the speed, but to this point in his career he has preferred to run over the last line of defenders rather than try to get by them. Croom said they are working on "setting up" defensive backs with footwork, as well as on understanding blocking schemes and continuing to develop as a pass-blocker.

    For Jackson, who has played for five head coaches -- including two interims -- it's time to get things done.

    "You get tired of starting over," Jackson said. "So I'm kind of at the point now where we're going to make this work. And we're going to make it work now. ... I'm welcoming the challenge of helping to turn this organization around."

Related Topics


  • MauiRam
    Pasquarelli on S. Jackson...
    by MauiRam NFL

    Monday, June 5, 2006
    Jackson has thrived when getting 20-plus carries

    By Len Pasquarelli

    Born and raised in Las Vegas, where both his parents worked in casinos, Steven Jackson realizes the unique relationship between numbers and odds.

    OK, so the St. Louis Rams' third-year tailback might not be the guy you want advising you at the blackjack table, as you're agonizing over whether to take another hit while holding 16, and his head usually spins over all of the confusing permutations of the roulette wheel. The fact is, if Jackson is down $100, he pretty much considers himself tapped out and heads home for the evening.

    But here's a winning parlay he understands well after only two NFL seasons: Give Jackson 20 carries, he'll get 100 yards, and the odds are pretty solid that the Rams will win.

    "I know what they're telling me in terms of how many carries they say I'm going to get. But I've heard those kinds of things before. I even went to [running backs coach] Wayne Moses the other day and told him, 'Now don't be teasing me. Don't be telling me what you think I want to hear just to pacify me.' "
    Steven Jackson
    "Now those are numbers," said Jackson, the Rams' first-round choice in the 2004 draft, "that are like magic numbers to me. Even I'd bet on those. And I'm not a very big gambler. I can't run with guys like [Charles] Barkley and that crowd. But, yeah, I know that those [represent] some winning numbers."

    Five times in his still fledgling NFL career, Jackson has logged 20 or more rushing attempts in a game. The results in those contests: an average of 130.6 yards per outing, 5.4 yards per carry, and five victories for the Rams. Of the team's six wins in 2005, half came in games in which Jackson was the offensive workhorse. Only once in the five contests in which Jackson got 20 carries did he fail to crack the 100-yard mark. Twice in those games, he had more than 145 yards, including a career-best 179 against Jacksonville on Oct. 30.

    Roll the dice with Jackson, a big back (6-foot-2, 231 pounds) with quick feet and nifty moves, and the odds are pretty good you won't crap out, as his brief league history indicates. And if offseason rhetoric emanating from first-year coach Scott Linehan means anything, the St. Louis offense expects to roll a whole lot of 7's with its starting tailback in 2006.

    Which is sweet music to the ears of Jackson, who often chafed in the past at the lack of carries he got under former coach Mike Martz, dismissed after a 2006 season in which he missed much of the season because of a bout with endocarditis, an inflammation of a heart valve. In 14 of 29 appearances in 2004-2005, Jackson had 10 carries or less, in part because of the...
    -06-05-2006, 09:56 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams' Jackson becoming multithreat
    by RamWraith
    / Associated Press

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - Steven Jackson joked after his biggest multithreat day in the NFL that he had become a big Marshall Faulk.

    It's clear the St. Louis Rams are finding new ways to utilize the third-year running back, who has taken over Faulk's spot on a full-time basis for the first time this season. Jackson opened the season with a pair of 100-yard rushing games in coach Scott Linehan's new balanced attack, and when the Lions crowded the line last week he totaled 146 yards rushing and receiving.

    The 240-pound Jackson is second in the NFL with 367 yards rushing with more power but less shiftiness than Faulk, and he's first in the league with 531 yards. The back-to-back 100-yard rushing games were the first for the team since Faulk, out for the season with a knee injury that could end his career, did it in three straight games in 2003.

    "It's all the same," Jackson said Thursday. "Once you get the ball, you're a running back anyway. So it doesn't matter."

    It doesn't matter to Linehan either, as long as Jackson gets his touches.

    "He does a lot with it once he's got it in his hands," Linehan said. "The sensible thing is to figure out more and more ways to get it in his hands if you can."

    Jackson had 81 yards on 22 carries, scoring the first rushing touchdown all season for the Rams (3-1). He added six catches for 65 yards in a 41-34 shootout over the Lions and is third on the team with 15 receptions and a 10.9-yard average.

    Jackson, a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time last season, totaled 73 catches his first two seasons.

    "I've always been able to have these talents," Jackson said. "They just didn't pop up overnight, it's just the fact that I'm able to put up the stats now.

    "That's what all look at, I guess."

    Jackson was the first running back taken in the 2004 draft. He believes what's happening now is just a natural progression.

    "Coach has opened the offense up a little bit because after those first two weeks, how the run offense took off like it did, we faced a lot of eight-man boxes geared to stop the run," Jackson said. "If we can't get it in the running game, we can get some short passes and it's kind of a running game."

    The Rams scored four touchdowns last week after totaling two the first three games. Besides Jackson's big day, wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce each had 100-yard days and Marc Bulger threw for a season-high 328 yards.

    "We're finally on one page," Jackson said. "Whoever's going to get the job done, I think egos are put to the side and we're going to ride that person out."

    Jackson may get a chance to run behind an offensive line at full strength. Offensive tackle Orlando...
    -10-06-2006, 04:59 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams' Steven Jackson finishes with 1,000-yard season
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    Monday, Dec. 29 2008

    ATLANTA — If the numbers that Rams running back Steven Jackson amassed Sunday
    were replicated throughout a 16-game season, the NFL record book would take a
    nasty beating.

    In a stirring 31-27 loss to the playoff-bound Atlanta Falcons, Jackson rushed
    for 161 yards; that would add up to 2,576 for a full season. He also had 54
    receiving yards; that's 864 for a full season and an outlandish total of 3,440
    yards from scrimmage.

    Of course, Jackson came nowhere near those totals. He missed four games and
    most of a fifth with a strained thigh muscle, then was hampered by a sore
    hamstring down the stretch.

    Still, he finished with 1,040 yards on the ground and 379 through the air.
    Jackson is the first Rams back to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive
    seasons since Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (1983-86).

    "It means a lot. I look up to Eric Dickerson … I look up to a lot of backs that
    have been a part of this franchise," said Jackson, a fifth-year pro. "It's been
    a rough couple of seasons for me, just being banged up. Still being able to
    reach 1,000 yards in 12 games, I think there's something I can take from it. …

    "We're talking about individual things right now, and that's all great. But at
    the end of the day, I want to be in the playoffs and I want to be in the Super
    Bowl, and hopefully win one."

    The Rams, ranked 27th in the 32-team NFL in rushing coming into the game, piled
    up a season-high 201 yards on the ground. They averaged 5.5 yards per attempt
    despite playing without both first-team guards.

    "Ever since I came in, my personal goal was obviously to play well, but also to
    get (Jackson) what he deserves," center Brett Romberg said. "He's a hell of a
    running back in this league, definitely the best that I've played with in the
    NFL. His opportunities are endless."

    Getting Jackson past the 1,000-yard mark "was something we wanted to do for
    him," guard Adam Goldberg said. "Steven is a real special player, and it's our
    honor to block for him."

    Actually, Jackson topped 1,000 twice. A 2-yard pickup with 5˝ minutes left in
    the third quarter got him to 1,001. But he fell back to 999 when he lost 2
    yards on his next try. He moved to 1,000 with a 1-yarder up the middle two
    plays later — and he stayed in four figures the rest of the way.

    Still, Jackson's most eye-popping play came on a short toss from quarterback
    Marc Bulger on third-and-9 early in the final period. Jackson reached back and
    made the catch with one hand, turned upfield and hurdled a would-be tackler
    -12-29-2008, 04:37 AM
  • RamsFan4ever
    Jackson's Versatility Adding To His Value
    by RamsFan4ever
    Jackson's Versatility Adding To His Value
    Saturday, December 2, 2006

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    It seems like just about every week the Rams defense has been forced to deal with one of the league’s top running backs. The superstar running back galaxy of LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson has marked the schedule.

    Even on weeks when the Rams looked like they were getting a break, they faced a developing star such as San Francisco’s Frank Gore, who has entered the stratosphere of the league’s top backs.

    But, as the season goes on, there is one back that the St. Louis defense is rapidly gaining an appreciation for and they don’t have to go far to find him. Following last week’s tour de force of running and catching, running back Steven Jackson has asserted himself as one of the top running backs in the league.

    In his third year in the league, Jackson is running harder than ever and seems to have matured and embraced all of the small things that go in to being a successful running back.

    “He comes out with an attitude every week,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “I think he’s one of the best backs in the league. There are some great backs in the league, but I think he’s up there with the best of them.”

    For those that haven’t seen him this season, the proof is in the numbers. Jackson is seventh in the NFL in rushing with 932 yards and six touchdowns. He ranks fourth in the league in total yards with 1,485 and is tied for seventh with teammates Torry Holt in receptions with 63.

    It isn’t to say that Jackson hasn’t been good in his first two years in the league, but it’s safe to say he has taken his game to a different level this year. When Jackson declared for the NFL Draft as a junior out of Oregon State, nobody questioned his speed or power. His bruising running style made him a candidate for a first-round pick.

    When draft day came, though, Jackson began to slide a bit because of a perceived lack of versatility. He caught 66 passes for 680 yards and six touchdowns as a Beaver, which should have helped him dispel any myths about his receiving ability.

    Still, as a 6’2, 231-pound running back, Jackson was viewed more as a pure runner than an all-around back.

    “I’m a big back so people assume I am just a downhill runner,” Jackson said. “It’s been good for me this year to show and display my receiving ability.”

    This year, he is doing everything he can to change that perception.

    Jackson put together a 13-catch, 133 receiving yard game against Kansas City on Nov. 5. Last week was perhaps Jackson’s finest performance of the season, rushing for 121 yards on 23 carries with nine catches for 71 yards.

    Along the way, Jackson jokingly referred to himself as a “big” Marshall Faulk. Of course, having to follow in the footsteps of Faulk...
    -12-02-2006, 04:56 PM
  • RamWraith
    Jackson Off to Strong Start
    by RamWraith
    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    When Steven Jackson wakes up on Monday morning, he is always sore. But this year, it’s a good kind of sore as Jackson’s workload has increased to a level that has placed him third in the league in rushing.

    “It feels pretty good,” Jackson said. “I’m fully aware that it’s only week two, so hopefully we can keep making strides and keep ourselves paced through it. This league is a marathon, not a race.”

    While there’s no doubting that Jackson has a long way to go in the NFL’s version of a marathon, there are signs that his good start out of the blocks could keep pace over the course of an entire season.

    After two games, Jackson has run with the combination of power and speed he flashed in his first two seasons in the league. As the game goes on, he gets stronger and he is finishing runs with more authority than in years past.

    “He's certainly one of those type backs, a big punishing type runner and they're harder to tackle if you're able to establish a running game as the game goes on,” head coach Scott Linehan said. “They tend to wear you down a little bit because it's a big guy to tackle.”

    Jackson’s punishing style has him third in the NFL and second in the NFC in rushing yards with 224 on just 44 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. And though his longest run of the season was a 37-yard scamper in the season opener against Denver, Jackson has showed more consistency than in his first two seasons.

    In the win against the Broncos, he rushed six times for 67 yards in the fourth quarter. Even with the Rams trailing in the loss to San Francisco, Jackson punished the ***** late in the game, carrying four times for 27 yards.

    It’s that type of punishing style that has placed Jackson behind only Cincinnati’s Rudi Johnson and Atlanta’s Warrick Dunn in the early race for the rushing title.

    “A lot goes on through the course of the game,” Jackson said. “Average fans don’t realize. You have to have a feel for what the defense is trying to do. Also, you try to wear them down. Coach is calling the plays to see what they are going to do and what formations (they might use) so as the course of the game goes on , I get a feel of what they are doing and I believe the offensive line does, too. With that being said, that’s how I get my big yards later in the game.”

    So, what exactly is it that has allowed Jackson to get off to such a good start? Actually, there are a number of reasons for his early-season success.

    One of those stems from the move of hiring Linehan as the head coach. Upon his arrival, Linehan vowed to give the Rams a more balanced attack with Jackson as the featured attraction.

    In his first two seasons in the league, Jackson had times where he would lose yards as he searched for holes to run...
    -09-22-2006, 05:11 AM