As he gets set to begin his ninth season in the NFL on Sunday afternoon in Detroit, Steven Jackson needs only to take a look around him to see that change is in the air.
SJ’s Rams are once again the league’s youngest team and carry 17 rookies on their 53-man roster. Steven is, of course, the longest tenured Ram and the youthful roster has him feeling alive and rejuvenated entering the 2012 season.
“It’s a whole new team,” Steven said. “We had some old guys come back like (former Rams LB) Pisa Tinoisamoa, (former Rams C) Andy McCollum and those guys [during training camp], and I was the only player that they recognized in there. It really says that there has been a lot of turnover. We’re very talented and we have depth at pretty much all positions.”
The turnover is most evident in the coaching staff, which has been completely retooled under coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher brought in an experienced group of coordinators and position coaches and SJ39 has raved throughout camp about their professionalism and experience.
“The other coaches that I’ve had after Mike Martz were all successful at the time and trendy and hot, but Jeff brings stability, he brings credibility,” No. 39 said. “He’s played in the league. He was one yard away from winning the Super Bowl.”
For a chance to reach that type of echelon, the Rams will be relying heavily on Steven in 2012. He enters the season as one of the most consistent runners in the history of the NFL, one of only seven men to run for 1,000 or more yards in seven consecutive seasons.
Much has been made of the new coach’s love for the ground game. It was under Fisher in Tennessee that Eddie George and Chris Johnson both matured into All-Pros. During Tennessee’s 1999 Super Bowl run, George carried the ball a total of 428 times. The next season, he led the NFL with 403 regular season carries for 1,509 yards. He ran for at least 1,000 yards in seven of his eight seasons under Fisher.
“I’m pretty sure he’s thinking along the lines of Eddie George when he thinks of coaching me and having me in his offense: downhill kind of guy,” Steven said. “He’s going to put me in position where I can be at my best.”
To shoulder such a workload, Steven altered his offseason training methods and his diet. With the help of the Central Institute for Human Performance in St. Louis, he targeted foods that were adversely affecting his diet and cut them out.
The six-week program allowed SJ to report to training camp 10 pounds lighter at just 5.1 percent body fat.
“I’m expecting a heavy work load and I’m ready to go,” he said. “That’s why I came in so eager. I wanted to prove that I can do what I know he can with other running backs. I want to be part of that elite group. All I can do is be who I have been over the years and try to lead by example with my younger guys, especially with Isaiah [Pead] coming in now to help me.”
Among the hires on Fisher’s coaching staff that have impressed Steven the most is new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. A disciple of his father Marty, Schottenheimer is also a running game enthusiast and has professed this offseason that even though teams will know the Rams are going to run out of certain sets, they won’t be able to stop SJ39, even when they know he’s coming.
“Everyone wants to throw the ball, but if you look at the teams for the most part over time that have consistently had success, they are physical,” Schottenheimer said. “And when the team that you are playing knows that you are going to run the ball, and you can still run it, that is a pretty good thing. I think we’re excited about what Steven’s done. He’s the bell cow.”
SJ believes that the Rams can be that team that Schottenheimer envisions, one that uses the run to set up the pass, but also brings physicality and a different attitude than Rams teams of the past.
“I have to set the tempo initially for each and every game,” he said. “Regardless of how much a team studies about us, they are probably going to be able to tell, out of this formation, this is what they like to run. So now the mentality has gone from trying to be tricky or crafty to more so, ‘This is my hole, this is where I’m going, stop me.’ Completely different attitude.”
In Steven’s assessment, setting the tone with a ground-and-pound, in-your-face style can work two-fold for the Rams. First, he’s confident that with a revamped offensive line, the holes will be there for him to produce in the running game.
That success will then allow quarterback Sam Bradford and his receivers to develop and open things up in the passing game, giving St. Louis a more complete and balanced offense.
“This offense presents a great opportunity for me to continue to play at a high level,” he said. “Hopefully we can continue to grow as an offense and the guys on the outside develop and open it up so we can actually have more favorable boxes against the running game. I’m definitely going to get my opportunities, as will Isaiah.”
INTO THE LIONS’ DEN
Season nine of the SJ39 Show begins on Sunday in Detroit, but SJ told reporters this week that it feels much like the first time for him as he gets ready for another season.
“I’m still going and very fortunate to go into my ninth one,” he said. “Just like the first one, I’m very enthusiastic and very thankful that I’m here.”
The Rams begin their 2012 season with a tough test against a Detroit Lions team that made the postseason for the first time in 12 years last season and is regarded as a franchise on the rise in the NFL.
The Lions are one of the league’s more balanced teams with one of the best quarterback-receiver combos in the game in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The team is also solid on defense with one of the most physical defensive lines in the league.
“Detroit has a very explosive offense and their front four on defense really get after the quarterback. They’re a very feisty team,” Steven said. “They play with an attitude. They play with an edge. We need to make sure we do a good job of protecting Sam.”
Steven believes that the Rams can win the game by controlling the tempo and they’ll have to do that by being successful on the ground.
“We know if we can control the game through the ground, we can give our defense some rest and keep their offense off the field,” he said.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz has a great deal of respect for S-Jax and knows that his team has quite a task in front of them as they gameplan to slow down one of the league’s best runners. What makes SJ39 unique according to Schwartz is that even if you stop him a number of times, he’ll keep coming and trying to break you.
“Steven Jackson has been not just productive in a short period of time, but over a long haul,” Schwartz said. “He’s a very good running back and for sure that’s a guy that we’re going to have to stop. I’ve said it with some other running backs; that’s not a guy you can stop nine out of 10 times. That tenth he has the ability to go to the house with it. I want to play our very best on defense.”
It goes without saying that a win over a playoff team in Week 1 could do wonders for the Rams’ confidence and Steven believes doing so on the road could set a positive tone for the rest of the season.
“Any time you can go in and get your first win, especially kickoff weekend, you have your confidence from there to build off of. Going into a road game where it’s hostile, Detroit is very good at home. To go in there and hopefully get a win on Sunday would be huge for us and what we’re trying to do the whole season.”
Kickoff is scheduled for Noon CDT and the game can be seen nationally on FOX.
- Rams’ Steven Jackson will challenge Lions’ revamped defense (The Detroit News, September 7, 2012)
- Rams RB Jackson needs re-made front to open holes (Associated Press, September 6, 2012)
- St. Louis Rams 2012 Season Preview (The Sports Network, September 2, 2012)
- RB Steven Jackson Press Conference (StLouisRams.com, September 6, 2012)
- Five Reasons Why Steven Jackson Will Dominate This Season (STACK, August 23, 2012)
- Steven Jackson: Breaking Down the St. Louis Rams’ Ultimate Weapon (Bleacher Report, August 23, 2012)
- Rams Position by Position Outlook (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 8, 2012)
- Final Word: NFC West (ESPN.com, September 7, 2012)
- Will Pead and Richardson answer the call? (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 8, 2012)
- Steven Jackson And The Future Of Rams Running Backs (Ramblin’ Fan, August 22, 2012)
- Hardest Working Players in the NFL: Steven Jackson (SI for Kids, August 31, 2012)
- Around the NFC West: Jackson’s Legacy (ESPN.com, September 3, 2012)
- Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams (ESPN.com, August 2, 2012)
- Lions Quotes: Jim Schwartz, Gunther Cunningham Meet With The Media (Pride of Detroit, September 8, 2012)