For the second straight week, Steven Jackson was on the field for just one drive in a Rams preseason game.
And for the second straight week, that drive produced a touchdown and set the tone for a St. Louis victory.
Steven carried five times for 22 yards and accounted for a large chunk of St. Louis’ 10-play, 72-yard game-opening scoring drive.
The Rams would go on to win 36-35 Thursday night on a Josh Brown field goal as time expired, but the story, even for Steven, was the inspired play of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford made the first NFL start of his career in place of the injured AJ Feeley and was impressive, completing 15 of his 22 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in one half of play.
SJ39, first as a member of Bradford’s huddle and then as an interested observer from the sideline was thrilled with what he saw from the young signal caller. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports recounted an exchange between Steven and Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo on the sideline as Bradford was leading the team down the field:
"At one point Bradford whipped a short fastball down the middle that threaded its way between two closing Patriot defenders. It wasn’t a big gainer. It wasn’t for a touchdown. On the sideline, though, coach Steve Spagnuolo and running back Steven Jackson, whose presence opens up options for Bradford, exchanged knowing looks.
"Did you see the same thing I did?" Spagnuolo said he asked Jackson."
Steven saw it and couldn’t hide his excitement.
"He was putting the ball on the money," S-Jax told the Belleville News-Democrat. "You can tell he really knows the offense. I'm really impressed with how far he's come in a short time."
Thursday’s game was the first time that No. 39 and Bradford occupied the same backfield in a game. Feeley, who started the first two preseason games for St. Louis, told reporters earlier in the week that having S-Jax back there with you makes all the difference in the world.
"Are you kidding me?" Feeley joked when asked about Jackson's impact. "Having that guy in the backfield definitely takes the load off. You can tell those linebackers, they have to honor him on all the play fakes. … Any time you motion to give him the ball, they're going to respect that. As a quarterback that makes it definitely easier."
With a four-carry, 20-yard start in his first appearance last Saturday followed by a five-carry, 22-yard start on Thursday, S-Jax has now piled up 42 yards on just nine rushes, a 4.6 yard per carry average that, stretched out over a full game (Steven averaged 21.6 carries per game last year) would give No. 39 100 yards per game.
"That's the kind of boost our team will need," Spagnuolo said. "That's who he is. We know he's one of our best players on our football team, and to have him out there, I think the offensive line feels better about it, I think the quarterbacks do, I mean everybody does. … When you can hand the ball off to a good back, it makes a difference."
REASONS TO BELIEVE
If the victory on Thursday, an impressive showing against one of the league’s top teams annually, did anything for the Rams, it built some confidence.
Steven knew going in that the game against New England might be the most important one of the preseason for St. Louis and he told reporters prior to the game that the Rams would use it as a gauge on their progress as a group.
"Actually it's going to be a big game for all of us, not just Sam," Rams running back Steven Jackson said. "It's a good measuring stick, the New England Patriots, to see where we're at as a team, how far we've come. To go against (Patriots coach Bill) Belichick's defense and to go against a team that's as well prepared and (well) coached as they are, (Bradford) is actually going to see what the NFL is like two weeks earlier than he would Sept. 12.
"It's a great test for him to see where he's at, give him some good material to study over the next two weeks. For us as a unit, it allows for all of us to actually get together for the first time."
The win may end up being another big step on the way to improving and building a solid foundation in St, Louis, something that has been Steven’s goal:
"We have a lot of young guys, a lot of talent that's eager to learn," Jackson told the Canadian Press. "Everyone seems to be pretty open to being coached, and guys are going out there being physical. That's all you can ask for, and as the time goes on, the team will build that chemistry and build that continuity you need."
No. 39 takes pride in his role on the Rams.
Unlike many teams who share the starting running back duties between two or more players, Steven is the unquestioned lead back in St. Louis and as the sun begins to set on the era of the workhorse back, S-Jax is doing whatever he can to save it.
In a report for ESPN, John Clayton recounts Steven’s battle with a different NFL landscape:
"What concerns Jackson is a new generation of running backs who are accepting roles in multiple-back formations. Last season, only nine running backs had 250 or more carries and only six had more than 300 carries. What used to be a position at which the onus was put on one featured back — ESPN's Merril Hoge uses the term "factor back" — is becoming a place for schools of replaceable backs.
It has concerned Jackson to the point of making a statement to those young backs.
"I think it's a lost art that I want to try to carry on until the next phase of running backs come," Jackson said. "I really pride myself in being one of the rare guys who stay on the field for three downs."
SJ39 explains to Clayton that there are several factors that some of his fellow backs may have not considered when it comes to taking the lead versus splitting time.
"I'm going to look at it from a business point of view that not many people are thinking about," Jackson said. "When you have so many guys, you water down your value of the backs. I don't think so many of these young guys realize that. When you share the load and you are up for a contract, what is your argument?"
Only nine backs make more than $5 million a year, and Jackson doesn't see a lot of new backs who will command big dollars. Unlike players at other positions, backs have a short NFL life span. Once they reach 28 or 29 years old, backs are destined to be replaced by most teams.
Jackson knows that the likelihood of his getting a new, big contract isn't great, so all he can work on now is what he can do for the Rams and his legacy. Jackson wants to be a back whom others try to copy because he doesn't want to leave the field. He's the shark, not the school of fish being eaten up by the sharks.
"I'm just trying to pave a new way," Jackson said. "I'm trying to find a new way for coaches and general managers to look at it. I want to show you can get a back who is prepared to endure."
Steven has been in the league long enough to see some of the best backs flash for a few years only to fade away and be tossed aside by the teams they’ve done so much for. His goal is not only to avoid the same fate, but to show others how to avoid it too.
"If you are good enough to get a second [contract], you're not getting a third deal," Jackson said. "You see what happened to Shaun Alexander. I want coaches and general managers to look at it a different way, and I want to be the example."
Jackson has set a goal to play at a high level for five more seasons. He hopes to give Bradford a back to depend on to make the rookie's transition as easy as possible. Jackson averaged 21.6 carries a game last season and wouldn't mind getting 25 carries a game to help his young quarterback.
Financially secure and fit for anything, Jackson is ready for the heavy workload and wishes others would follow. He's all for the preservation of the workhorse running back.
To read Clayton’s entire piece, click here.
Just one game remains in the preseason as the S-Jax and the Rams head back home.
St. Louis will play host to the Baltimore Ravens next Thursday, September 2. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 P.m. CST.
The regular season begins 10 days later when the Rams welcome the Arizona Cardinals into the Edward Jones Dome for the first official game of the 2010 season. Kickoff of the game is scheduled for 3:15 CST and all the action can be seen regionally on FOX.
Jackson has an impact in a hurry (St. Louis Post Dispatch, August 25, 2010)
Jackson will be Bradford’s security blanket (The Canadian Press, August 26, 2010)
Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams committed to workhorse role (ESPN.com, August 26, 2010)
Bradford’s first start comes in Rams’ first preseason game (Belleville New-Democrat, August 26, 2010)
Bradford tosses a pair of TD passes in victory over Patriots (Belleville News-Democrat, August 27, 2010)
Bradford passes test in first pro start (Yahoo! Sports, August 26, 2010)