The Rams opened training camp this weekend, and Steven Jackson — cleared by doctors for the first practice of the season — was on the field for the start of camp on Saturday as he and the Rams work their way back into football shape.
"The back is fully healed," Steven told reporters at Rams camp. "We really worked hard this offseason to make sure the durability will still be there. I can still run in the natural way I’m used to running. I don’t have to adjust my style for anything. I think it’s more so just getting my feet underneath me again, making the cuts I’m able to make and working on the field of vision."
Steven was all smiles as training camp got underway (Getty Images).
As Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, Steven was ready to roll from the first whistle, showing that not much has changed about him from last season:
"Jackson, who had surgery in April to repair a herniated disc in his back, was nearly a full participant. On the first snap of 11-on-11 "team" drills, he took a handoff from quarterback A.J. Feeley and burst around left end for a nice gain.
"We don't want to jump out there too quick and have him set back," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "But I was encouraged."
S-Jax was joined at practice by St. Louis’ new quarterback, 2010 1st overall pick Sam Bradford. Bradford signed his Rams contract on Saturday and quickly got to work with his teammates.
Steven has been impressed with what he has seen out of Bradford and said he will do what he can to help the signal caller with any pressure he may feel, as quoted by Sky Sports:
"I would be naive to say he doesn't feel he has something to prove right away," Jackson said. "The only thing I can do as a veteran that's been in those shoes: Play football the way you know how. He's not the No. 1 pick for no reason, so I'm pretty sure as the season goes on and as his career goes on, he will blossom."
After going padless on Saturday, the Rams strapped on the pads for the first time on Sunday for full contact and, as expected, Steven was once again a participant, showing no ill effects from last season's injury.
"I've been working really, really hard with my trainer all offseason to make sure that when today came, I'd be ready to practice and be able to pretty much participate in everything," Steven said.
Rams.com’s Nick Wagoner said he thought S-Jax looked ready:
"Steven Jackson looks fully healthy to me. The burst is there and he looks to be in great shape. Looks like things will just keep rolling for SJ39."
Most of all, Steven is elated to be playing without pain. He admitted to reporters on Saturday that the pain he felt through the last several weeks of the season as the herniated disc worsened was at times excruciating, as quoted by the Belleville News Democrat:
"That last five or six weeks of the season were pretty painful," said No. 39, who still rushed for 1,416 yards last season. "Going through it, I think I proved a lot to myself, being able to fight through that pain and still be somewhat productive. I'm really excited about the season and ready to get after it now."
He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was fortunate to be able to have the surgery when he did, timing his recovery perfectly.
"We're going on three months, and I still have another month to go (until the Rams' season opener against Arizona on Sept. 12)," Steven said. "If I had to have the surgery, I think we did it at the right time. Everything is up. Everything is going good."
Though there wasn’t much installed, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was thrilled just to have his team back out on the field preparing for a better season in 2010. He said the intensity of the first practice was a good sign, as he told the Post-Dispatch:
"There were some up and downs in the practice. We’ll work on that. That’s typical on the first day you put pads on," Spagnuolo said. "When we did do some live (tackling) stuff, I thought they got after it pretty good. I liked the tempo, and I kind of liked the way the offense and defense are competing against each other. That’s a good thing."
While Steven and Co. prepare for the 2010 season, it’s hard to forget the type of success that No. 39 had in 2009.
No. 39 led the NFC in rushing yards, piling up 1416 yards on 324 carries. Will at Rams Herd recently took a closer look at Steven’s big season and surmised that it may have been one of the unluckiest in recent memory because despite all those yards, S-Jax finshed with just four touchdowns.
"In fact, it was one of the strangest seasons in NFL history, matched by only three other runners in the modern era. Essentially, it’s really rare for a runner to be this good and to have so few opportunities to score touchdowns."
According to Will, Steven’s season compares to Tony Dorsett’s 1981 season with the Dallas Cowboys in which he carried 342 times for 1646 yards and 4 touchdowns, Barry Sanders’ 1998 season in Detroit of 343 carries for 1491 yards and 4 TD's and Warrick Dunn’s 2006 season with the Atlanta Falcons when he ran for 1416 on 280 carries but managed only 3 touchdowns.
To read more about Steven's "unlucky" season, click here.
Meanwhile, over at Turf Show Times, Brett Gall argues whether or not No. 39 deserves to be the NFL’s highest paid running back.
Gall tosses around pros and cons, citing Steven’s yards per carry and touchdowns versus his lack of fumbles in relation to other backs and his overall value to the Rams before coming to his conclusion:
"Jackson is only getting better in my opinion. Every other quality running back in the league has other threats on his team. Chris Johnson had a mobile Vince Young last year, Adrian Peterson has an army of quality wide receivers, a Pro-Bowl QB, and a Pro-Bowl line, Michael Turner has young, explosive players around him. Obviously Jackson’s touchdown count is deceiving, since he faces stacked boxes every down and the Rams’ impotent offense gets in the red zone about every time Haley’s comet passes. If we get some free agent to back him up, and his body doesn’t act up too much, I strongly believe his next year can be better than his 2006, 2300+ yard performance. Here's to optimism!"
To read Gall’s entire analysis, click here.
Early signs positive for Steven Jackson (ESPN.com, August 1, 2010)
Jackson discusses offseason adventures in South Africa (Belleville News Democrat, August 1, 2010)
Rams Report: Players get "after it" in pads (STLToday.com, August 1, 2010)
Steven Jackson ready after offseason adventures (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2010)
Two a days begin with a physical tone (Rams.com, August 1, 2010)
Record deal for Bradford (Sky Sports, July 30, 2010)
Should Steven Jackson be the NFL's Highest Paid Running Back? (Turf Show Times, July 29, 2010)
Steven Jackson, 2009: Unluckiest rushing year ever? (Rams Herd, July 23, 2010)