When the Rams kickoff their 2011 preseason on Saturday night at home against the Indianapolis Colts, it will be the beginning of a year with high aspirations for Steven Jackson.

Steven catches a pass during extra reps after practice at Rams Park (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

The Rams took a big step forward last season after a 1-15 season in 2009, improving by six games and coming within a Week 17 win of the NFC West crown. 2011 offers the opportunity to take another leap. Much has changed in St. Louis over the last two seasons, but No. 39 is a firm believer that it’s all for the best.

“It’s been a lot of turnover. But I think in that turnover we’ve weeded out some guys and we’ve found some people that fit what we want to do here in St. Louis,” he said. “We’re definitely building a solid team.”

Steven, now second among Rams players in tenure with the team, is at the center of that solid group and he’s feeling great as he enters his eighth season in the NFL.

“I feel great. I feel real good, tip-top condition. My strength is there. My pass blocking. I … have been receiving a lot of compliments on that,” Steven told FS Midwest. “The timidness of my game is gone. Again, it feels good.”

He wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the best he’s felt entering a season in his career, but SJ39 admits it’s pretty close, as he told FS Midwest:

“No, it’s not the best I’ve felt,” Jackson said. “My rookie year was the best I felt, because I was excited. But I feel really good and feel really excited about this year.”

Those that have seen No. 39 for years and Rams newcomers alike have been impressed with his work ethic and the dynamics of his play in camp:

“He’s got all the skills that you’d like a running back to have,” new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He can receive the ball out of the backfield. He certainly can break tackles. He’s a great runner, and as many ways as we can possibly utilize that player this year, that’s hopefully what we’ll do. We’ll maximize him and keep him fresh.”

The Rams have done plenty this offseason to make sure that happens by upgrading the offensive line. St. Louis added guard Harvey Dahl to strengthen the unit’s presence in run support.

“To have not only what’s on paper a good offensive line, but to have some size, it’s special,” Jackson told CBS Sports. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The Rams have also added a plethora of wide receivers, including veteran Mike-Sims Walker and quality backups at running back like Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams a seven-year vet with a 1,000-yard season under his belt.

“It’s a definite positive, any time you have depth at any position,” Jackson said. “If a guy happens to come up hurt, a guy needs a blow, you’ll have guys that’ll be able to fill into the positions, give a guy a break. And that helps us overall.”

Steven and Cadillac have a mutual respect for each other after coming into the league just a year apart and watching one another from afar.

“He’s a very physical runner,” Williams told the Belleville News-Democrat of SJ39. “Not only physical, he’s nifty, he hits the hole (well), he’s got good shiftiness, he’s the complete back. I definitely respect his game. One of the best in the game.”

Williams has been most amazed by Steven’s focus in camp. Despite being a seven-year vet, Cadillac has picked up a few things from S-Jax as well:

“It has been a joy to watch the guy,” Williams told FOX. “He’s big and fast. He’s one of the top backs in the league. Just to watch a guy like that and learn from a guy like that, it’s great.”

Steven has big-time goals he has yet to achieve both for himself and his team. He started thinking about them again last weekend, as he watched the man he followed in St. Louis, Marshall Faulk, enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“I would be lying to say that I don’t think about it,” Jackson said. “But first things first, I have to get into the playoffs and win a Super Bowl. Those kind of things, I think, make you more prone to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Is it a dream of mine? Of course, but it’s not my sole purpose and my sole focus.”

The Rams are going to do everything they can to make sure that all those things happen for SJ39 and the franchise. Coach Steve Spagnuolo recognizes that Steven will give everything he has to the team and that the running back has plenty left to give.

“Steven wants the ball and he carries this team on his back but we can be smart with him,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s touched the ball a lot. He’s a durable guy. We always say that about him being a warrior, but I think he’s able to do that because one, his mind-set, and two, because he takes care of his body.”

There’s plenty to look forward to about this season and specifically Saturday’s opener with the Colts.

The Rams will showcase their new offense for the first time, with new receiving targets for quarterback Sam Bradford. SJ39 told the Post-Dispatch that he’s looking forward to seeing it all work its way into place:

“As far as an offense, we have some explosiveness at the wideout position. The mixture of play-calling and (quarterback Sam Bradford’s) second year, we’ll be fine,” Steven said. “We’re making some great strides. Guys are getting comfortable with some of the language and the formations and different things we’ve only had a week to really be in. We’re really learning at a fast pace.”

On the other side of the ball, No. 39 is confident the defensive unit is ready to bring their game to another level.

“Our defense, they were terrific last year,” he said. “They’re going to build off that, especially with some of the new guys we’re bringing in.”

The Rams take on the Colts in their preseason opener on Saturday night at the Edward Jones Dome. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. CDT and the game can be seen locally on FOX. The game will air nationally on tape delay on the NFL Network Sunday morning at 9 a.m.

To get ready for the game, check out the highlight package below and another one here.