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  • Holdovers feel they can fill role of Jackson's backup ..

    BY BILL COATS
    05/24/2010

    From future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk to second-round draftee Brian Leonard to journeymen such as Arlen Harris, Tony Fisher and Antonio Pittman, the Rams for half a decade have strived to find a solid backup for Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson.

    In general, it's been a futile search. Leonard produced 303 rushing yards in 2007, the highest total among the No. 2 backs. Pittman had 296 in '08 and Faulk 292 in '05. None of the others cracked the 200-yard mark.

    Meanwhile, Jackson has rolled up a total of 6,034 yards (on 1,414 carries) in his five seasons as the team's marquee back, topping 1,000 yards in each of those seasons. During that period, Jackson has averaged 282.8 carries a year, one of the NFL's heaviest workloads.

    His carries and yards represent 75.6 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, of the Rams' ground production by running backs in that span.


    Now, Jackson is coming off surgery April 15 to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. So, it would seem logical that the Rams would prefer to lessen Jackson's task a bit.

    The Rams have flirted with former Philadelphia standout Brian Westbrook, a free agent brought in for a physical exam last month. The Rams remain interested, but Westbrook, 30, has a troublesome left knee and also suffered two concussions last season.

    Two rookie free-agent running backs — Keith Toston of Oklahoma State and DeMaundray Woolridge of Idaho — are among the 96 players participating in organized team activities at Rams Park.

    But with training camp about two months off, the only other backs on the roster with NFL experience are holdovers from last season, Kenneth Darby and Chris Ogbonnaya.

    They've heard the pleas for a new face to back up Jackson, and it's possible the Rams will find one when rosters are whittled down in the summer.

    Still, Darby and Ogbonnaya would like to say: Hey, what about us?

    "They should all think that way," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "Any back that comes in here should be competing for that" job.

    "People are going to talk, and I really can't control what people say," said Darby, 5 feet 10 and 219 pounds. "But I can control what I do on the field. When people say that, I don't really pay it any mind. But I do remember it, so when I get my opportunity to go out there, I show people what I'm made of and introduce them to Mr. Kenneth Darby."

    Last year, Mr. Darby picked up 152 yards on 27 carries and added 96 yards on 18 catches. Ogbonnaya, 6-0 and 225, spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. But he suited up late in the year and had 50 yards on 11 attempts, plus one reception for 19 yards.

    That action, scant as it was, "helps a lot," Ogbonnaya said. "When you're just out there practicing, you're more so working on your craft instead of working toward getting ready to play on Sundays. Getting that experience ... helped me to understand the speed of the game, how it's different on game day as opposed to practice."

    Preparing for his second season is "a lot different," said Ogbonnaya, a former University of Texas ballcarrier. "I'm a lot more comfortable. I understand the system fully. Now, it's just working on the technical aspect of things."

    To make a legitimate run for the No. 2 spot, Ogbonnaya said he needs to "just play consistently, play fast, and do the things that I know that I can do best. Just do me. That's the most important thing. Just go hard every play and put yourself in the position that ... gives the coaches a chance to evaluate where you're at in a positive light."

    Darby is an Alabama product who said he enjoys the competition.

    "That's what makes it so fun," he said. "It makes me a better player, and it makes the person I'm competing against — all the running backs — better."

    He was the busiest stand-in for Jackson last year, and Darby said he regards his incumbency as a positive.

    "Most definitely. I feel like I can secure that" job, he said. "I know all the players, I'm comfortable with the playbook, and I know what I'm doing when I'm out there.

    "I feel like I'm very experienced in that area and that I can back up 'Jack' whenever they need me to go in there."

    Ogbonnaya is equally self-assured.

    "I feel confident; I would be lying if I didn't say that," he said. "But I know the nature of the business. It's my job to accept competition wherever it is. And I accept that challenge."

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  • MauiRam
    Battle for backup running back just beginning ..
    by MauiRam
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    Through much of the speculation about what the Rams’ new offensive scheme will look like, there’s been one steady, constant key to the way new coach Steve Spagnuolo’s team will play offense: it will place a heavy emphasis on running the football.

    That emphasis is music to the ears of many, an offensive line that loves to run block, a quarterback who prefers to not take so many hits and a star running back in Steven Jackson who is rarely satisfied with his opportunities.

    It also means that somewhere on the roster, Spagnuolo, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and running backs coach Sylvester Croom are going to have to find some worthy backups capable of sharing what is sure to be an increased workload not only for Jackson but for all of the running backs on the roster.

    In a battle that is sure to last well into training camp, the Rams have already started taking a long look at some of the potential backups with Kenneth Darby and Antonio Pittman getting the bulk of the immediate work behind Jackson and rookie Chris Ogbonnaya and veteran Samkon Gado waiting in the wings.

    “We want Steven in there, but if Steven isn’t I’m really impressed with the guys that we have,” Shurmur said. “They all are a little bit different, but obviously when a backup player comes in he’s a role player. And so there are things that they’re good at and other things they are developing, so I think that’s the case with all our guys.”

    After Jackson missed four games and part of another with a thigh injury last season, the Rams turned to Pittman and Darby to share the majority of the load in his absence. The duo had its ups and downs but flashed potential as both are still early in their careers.

    Still, the Rams entered the offseason with the idea of adding a back that could carry the load in Jackson’s place. But because of more pressing needs at other positions, the team opted to bring back Gado, who had a short stay with the team last year, and draft Ogbonnaya in the seventh round of April’s NFL Draft.

    With only a handful of organized team activities remaining, the Rams are just beginning the process of sorting out who will fill what role. As it stands, Darby and Pittman would seem to be the top contenders.

    For his part, Spagnuolo says he’s excited to monitor the competition for the No. 2 running back role well into the summer.

    “(There is) a lot of competition,” Spagnuolo said. “I’m not going to pin one against the other. I think both of the guys are picking up the system pretty well. At least that’s the indication from coach Croom. I think both add certain things. Again, I would say I’m real anxious to see the competition when they put the pads on.”

    Darby came to the Rams on Oct. 14 from Tampa Bay’s practice squad after injuries again hit the Rams running backs. He played...
    -06-11-2009, 09:21 AM
  • Nick
    Darby remains Rams' No. 2 running back
    by Nick
    Darby remains Rams' No. 2 running back
    BY BILL COATS • Posted: Saturday, September 11, 2010 12:15 am

    The offseason buzz made its way to Kenneth Darby: The Rams must bring in a No. 2 running back. Either draft one or pick up a free agent. But get somebody.

    Darby, who filled that role behind Steven Jackson last year, was unperturbed by the pleas.

    "Naw, naw," he said, laughing. "If anything, it just gave me more of that hunger to work harder and prove people wrong, show people what I can do."

    The Rams made a push to sign free agent Brian Westbrook, but he wound up in San Francisco. Then they gave Chris Ogbonnaya, a seventh-round draft pick last year, the first opportunity to earn the job. After teams trimmed their rosters last weekend, the Rams scoured the waiver wire. They signed Allen Patrick but assigned him to the practice squad.

    So as the Rams head into Sunday's regular-season opener against Arizona, Darby is back in his familiar slot, where he gained 140 yards on 32 carries last season. Keith Toston, an undrafted rookie from Oklahoma State, is the other running back on the 53-man roster. Ogbonnaya was released after an unproductive preseason showing.

    A healthy Jackson will get a heavy workload. He had 375 touches — 324 carries and 51 receptions — last year in 15 games. But Jackson is coming off back surgery in April, and the Rams have to prepare for all possibilities.

    "We're fine there," coach Steve Spagnuolo. "You're not going to have at all 22 positions a 1 and a 1A; there's just not enough spots for that. But we've got two solid running backs there that we think can get it done should something happen to Steven."

    The 5-foot-10, 219-pound Darby, a fourth-year pro out of Alabama, had a sluggish start to the preseason, averaging just 3.1 yards a carry in the first two games. But in the last two, he picked up 74 yards on 19 attempts, a 3.9 average.

    Darby said that when he changed his thinking, he changed his production.

    "My mind-set coming into this preseason was getting the No. 2 spot. And I guess I was just thinking about that too much instead of playing my game," he said. "I just said, 'Forget it, just relax, Darby, play your game and let the game come to you.' And that's exactly what I did. I relaxed and started playing my game."

    Toston, 5-11 and 214, was the team's leading rusher in the preseason, with 127 yards on 39 carries, a 3.3 average.

    "Toston has really come on — showed he had a little burst," Spagnuolo said. "I like that he's a north-and-south runner."

    Beating the odds and making the team "is a dream," Toston said. Now he's eager to get into a regular-season game.

    "Any time you're in this business, you want to play," Toston...
    -09-10-2010, 11:24 PM
  • MauiRam
    Toston has eye on backup RB opening with St. Louis Rams ..
    by MauiRam
    by Bill Coats

    05/03/2010

    Since taking Steven Jackson in the first round in 2004, the Rams have drafted just two running backs — Brian Leonard in the second round in 2007 and Chris Ogbonnaya in the seventh and final round last year.

    Leonard was traded to Cincinnati in '09 after two generally uneventful seasons with the Rams. Ogbonnaya spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad.

    It's no surprise, then, that the team has struggled to come up with a suitable backup for Jackson. Kenneth Darby has proved little in two years with the Rams, Samkon Gado was let go after the '09 season, and Ogbonnaya doesn't have a large enough body of work — 11 carries for 50 yards — off which to form a judgment.

    So once again, the No. 2 job behind Jackson is open. Of the 15 rookie free agents working out at rookie minicamp this week, two are running backs: Keith Toston of Oklahoma State and DeMaundray "The Diesel" Wooldridge of Idaho.
    Click here to find out more!


    Toston doesn't have a cool nickname. But he probably has the best chance of landing a spot on the team. "This opportunity is one of my dreams," he said, "so I feel pretty good about getting a chance to live it out."

    The 6-foot, 214-pound Toston (pronounced TOAST-un) didn't become a full-time starter until early in his senior season, after All-Big 12 back Kendall Hunter went down with an ankle injury.

    Toston rushed for 1,218 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Cowboys. He also latched on to 25 passes for 261 yards and a TD. He finished his four seasons at OSU — where Pro Football Hall of Famers Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas once toiled — with 3,234 total yards: 2,727 rushing and 507 receiving.

    Toston, who succeeded Hunter on the all-conference squad, felt that he played himself onto several teams' draft boards. "Through the whole operation, I was talking to teams. But it ended up not happening," he said. "So I had to take what they gave me."

    The culprit, Toston suspects, was his pedestrian 40-yard dash time — 4.66 seconds — at the NFL scouting combine. "That could've scared some teams away," he conceded. "But I'm a football player. And the way I play is best shown when I'm wearing pads."

    The Rams haven't seen him first-hand in pads — they're banned at minicamp. Still, Toston got a good look during the three-day, five-practice event and could be invited back for more.

    "Although I'm a free agent, I feel just like a draft pick," Toston said. "Everybody's equal."

    Toston described his style as "almost the same exactly"as Jackson's. "He's a powerful back and he makes moves when he has to. I'm a power runner and I make moves," Toston said. "But only when I have to."

    His...
    -05-02-2010, 09:17 PM
  • RamWraith
    Backups Step to Forefront
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    11/17/2008

    SAN FRANCISCO — For Antonio Pittman, it was trying to meet a coach's challenge. For Kenneth Darby, it was trying to prove that his fingers aren't really so slippery.

    For the Rams, it was trying to cobble together a representative backfield performance with Steven Jackson sidelined for the third time in a month with a strained thigh muscle.

    Those goals generally were achieved Sunday. But the ultimate goal — a victory over NFC West rival San Francisco — proved to be far more elusive. The ***** rolled up a commanding halftime lead and cruised to a 35-16 win in front of 67,573 at Candlestick Park.

    Pittman, who started his fourth game in a row at running back, acknowledged that he's "enjoying it a lot." But he added firmly:


    "Anybody can enjoy going out there and enjoy being the starter. But any guy who's got pride and puts it all on the line and has got some heart in this business would enjoy a victory even more."

    Pittman and Darby, both second-year pros with scant experience before Jackson's injury, combined for 208 total yards, a solid average of 6.5 yards every time they touched the ball.

    Pittman carried 14 times for a career-high 95 yards, and his three receptions netted 4 yards. Darby ran for 26 yards on seven tries and added 83 yards on eight catches.

    "They did a great job filling in," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "It's not easy coming in and out of the games like they're doing right now, but they're doing a good job with it."

    Overall, the Rams churned out 126 yards on the ground, the most since they amassed 180 vs. Dallas on Oct. 19 and their third-highest total of the season. They came into the game with the 26th-ranked rushing offense among the NFL's 32 teams.

    "You've got to look at the bright spots," center Nick Leckey said. "If we can run the ball like that, then that's something we can look at and say, 'Hey, that's one thing we're doing well.'''

    Darby, signed off Atlanta's practice squad Oct. 14, fumbled twice last week against the New York Jets. Although the second bobble was negated by a Jets penalty, Darby was ordered to the bench. Coach Jim Haslett said later that he considered cutting Darby the next day.

    But with Jackson still ailing, Darby got a second opportunity. He was fumble-free vs. the Niners.

    "I'm very grateful that the coaches gave me another chance, that they didn't give up on me," he said. "I know they see potential in me, and I wanted to show them that what happened last week was a fluke, because I'm not the type of back to put the ball on the ground."

    Darby caught just two passes in brief action last season with Tampa Bay. His heavy role as a receiver Sunday "pretty...
    -11-17-2008, 04:16 AM
  • RamWraith
    Minor Welcomes Major Role
    by RamWraith
    By Bill Coats
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    10/26/2008

    Since Aug. 3, 2003, Travis Minor's NFL career has been dedicated to a single goal: honoring his father, who was killed that day when a drunk driver plowed into his motorcycle in Baton Rouge, La.

    "I owe him for everything that I am," Minor said. "He was the main reason why I'm able to play in the NFL. I was blessed to have a father figure in my life until then. All I can do is hope to be as good a father one day as he was to me."

    Leslie Minor was just 45 when he died on the motorcycle that Travis had presented to him as a gift. The driver who hit him is serving a 15-year prison sentence.

    Travis Minor is in his second season with the Rams, the eighth year of a career in which he's excelled at special teams and served as a reserve running back. He's had 302 carries and 67 receptions for a total of 1,792 yards. His scored his only touchdown in 2001, his rookie year with the Miami Dolphins.

    "I definitely understand my role," said Minor, 29. "We have a great tailback here in Steven (Jackson), and I've been on other teams where we've had great running backs. It doesn't change your confidence in being able to make great plays."

    Should Jackson's strained right thigh muscle keep him on the sideline Sunday at New England — he was listed as "questionable" Friday in the final injury report of the week — Minor's role could be greatly increased.

    According to coach Jim Haslett, the running back duties would be divvied up in some manner among Minor, Antonio Pittman and newcomer Kenneth Darby. Pittman will suit up for the first time since breaking a bone in his lower leg Sept. 21 at Seattle; Darby was signed as a free agent Oct. 14.

    Which means that Minor might be the most reliable option if Jackson can't go.

    "He knows the protections. I don't have to worry about helping him out and telling him where to go," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "He's a good pass-blocker ... just a solid guy."

    As 5 feet 10 and 203 pounds, Minor is "not as big as 'Jack,' doesn't have that physical presence," Bulger said. "But he can make the first guy miss, and if he can get to the second level, he can go all the way. He has break-away speed."

    That was evident at Catholic High in Baton Rouge, where Minor won state championships in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. He did pretty well on the football field, too.

    After piling up 2,649 rushing yards, 598 passing yards and 43 touchdowns his senior year, Minor was named the national offensive player of the year by USA Today.

    He started 33 games at Florida State and remains the No. 3 rusher in Seminoles history, with 3,218 yards. Minor was a third-round draft pick (No. 85 overall) by the Dolphins in 2001, but...
    -10-26-2008, 05:16 AM
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