Rams' new back can derail defenders
By Bernie Miklasz
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz
Rams fans aren't bashful about jumping on quarterback Marc Bulger. In Friday's 28-3 victory over the Redskins, Bulger got booed on the second offensive series. The Chris Chandler Fan Club welcomed new members. And it will be that way all season for Bulger.
Quarterback controversies in St. Louis are old news. We've done that already. Yawn.
What the town needs is something fresh. What we need is a debate over running backs. And we will have one soon enough.
Marshall Faulk is the starter. He's a sure Hall of Famer. He's the greatest football player I've covered. Faulk is also 31. He's lost speed. His surgically repaired knees could be museum pieces. But Faulk will continue to be the feature back until he runs out of gas.
Why? Because of Faulk's brains. His ability to read defenses and step out and pick up blitzers. Because of his sure hands in the passing game. Because of his winning background. Because of the respect he commands in the locker room. And because of coach Mike Martz's loyalty to him.
But c'mon, admit it ...
Aren't you excited by the freight train that's pulled into Union Station?
It's the Steven R. Jackson. He's been the Rams' most impressive running back this summer. And if you're a defender, you'd better clear the tracks. This dude will flatten you.
"I think safeties get tired of hitting him," Martz said.
Jackson had 25 carries for 125 yards against the Redskins. He's rushed for 251 yards, at 4.6 yards a charge, in three preseason games. And he's caught eight passes for 34 yards. The Rams apparently knew what they were doing when they picked Jackson in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft. Jackson already is leaving some blood on the tracks.
"I'm a rookie," Jackson said, "so teams are trying to intimidate me at first. That's why I came out so aggressively. I'm trying to set the tempo. I don't want the defense to set the tempo. Plus, when I run hard it fires my teammates up."
The question: How long will Faulk keep this train waiting in the station? It's hard to say. If anything, Jackson may extend Faulk's career by easing Faulk's workload and punishment. But if Faulk goes down, Jackson appears ready to barrel in. He busts through small holes. He gets yards after contact. He's a surprisingly smooth cutback runner, displaying quick feet. And he can haul his 230 pounds around the corner.
What's missing is knowledge of the Rams offense, especially in pass protection. Jackson makes too many mistakes; he whiffed on a blitz pick-up against Washington. And he knows it.
"I'm willing to put in the extra hours before practice and after practice to get better," Jackson said.
That's what Martz wanted to hear. That's why he publicly chastised the rookie back before training camp. Martz wanted to test the depth of Jackson's hunger and desire to learn. He didn't want the kid to get comfy on a pile of signing-bonus money.
"There's such a volume of information," Martz said. "He has no idea. We're using pretty much the same game plan every week. Wait until we throw that first (regular season) game plan at him. It'll be a culture shock for him. He really has to get into this thing. And he does.
"For a rookie to be this far along, with the little preparation he's had, is pretty remarkable. He's a professional. He's much more mature than I ever gave him credit for. He's approached this with a great deal of focus, and like a very mature athlete."
Since they moved here, the Rams have never had a power runner like Jackson. That extra dimension should give the offense more punch in the red zone, and more muscle in methodical, ball-control drives.
"When he's carrying the ball, the more you give him the ball, the stronger he gets," Martz said. "The more you give it to him, the hungrier he gets. He just keeps rolling."
Unlike recent Rams' No. 1 draft picks, The Steven R. Jackson won't stall at the station.
Sorry the URL would have been screwy, there's an apostrophe there which is making it hard.
All the hype on him makes it seem like Marshall Faulk is just getting in the way. Who would know - Martz is so defiantly anti-run right now.