Steven Jackson is back for his 11th season in the National Football League—and another year older has already shown SJ39 to be another year wiser, as he has displayed over the course of the offseason.
Steven sustained an injury to his left hamstring early in training camp, an injury most running backs would prefer to rush back to the field. But SJ39 opted to receive the message sent with his injury with an open mind.
In his recent blog post, SJax revealed that when he suffered a hamstring injury last year—his first year with the Falcons franchise—he put pressure on himself to return to the field, and perhaps had himself back out playing before he was truly ready. This time around, although he was unhappy to suffer another setback, Steven noted on that he felt confident he would have the time to rectify his injury and resume his position as the tempo setter for the Atlanta offense.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to come back quickly,” says Jackson about last year’s injury. “(This time) I took the injury as a blessing in disguise that allowed me to do things like learn the intricacies of our offense.”
No. 39 has always made a point to have a vast knowledge of the offense, but with little time to learn the Falcons scheme last year, that notion was more diffuclt. But this year, thanks to some extra study hours provided by the injury, he believes he’ll be more prepared than ever to help the offense run smoothly.
“I take great pride in knowing the blocking scheme, what everyone is doing on the field, where the point of attack is, why the coach will call a certain play and what he’s trying to get done,” said Jackson. “It was something I’ve done a lot in the past, but was difficult to do last year.”
The only active NFL running back to record at least 10,000 rushing yards and 3,500 receiving yards, states that though he studies each season, he expanded his knowledge to different positions during this recovery period.
“Since I had a month to study, I took things a step further than I ever had before,” No. 39 explained. “I tried to look at the game as if I was a quarterback or a coordinator, which really challenged me to know where each guy was suppose to line up, what his job was, and what he was suppose to do.”
SJ is eager to put his knowledge to good use on the field against another team. Sunday, the long wait to do so will finally end as the Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome. He talked with the media earlier this week, and identified how the game will change for the Falcons as they make their transition from preseason to the real thing.
“Game speed is different because the defenders know exactly what they are doing,” Steve said. “They’re starters. They know their game plan. They’re comfortable with it. They’re returning a defensive unit that has all been together except for Jairus Byrd. They know their scheme, we know our scheme so it should make for a very exciting Sunday.”
As the season begins, Steven and his fellow Falcons will be making their case for why they should hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year.
Last season, Atlanta entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, but the injury bug ravaged the locker room, leaving the squad far short of expectations.
However, head coach Mike Smith is happy with the health of his squad heading into Week 1.
“There were two players listed on [the injury report] and they were full participants. We had everybody here in practice,” said Smith. “We’re healthy.”
Though two players are listed for injuries, most of the key players for Atlanta will once again be donning the familiar red, black and white for what Jackson deems a “complete offense,” a far cry from what the Falcons fielded much of last year.
In addition to SJ’s absence, star receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones also missed time, severly handicapping the team’s attack.
“Our offense can put a wide range of defenses under stress in an even wider variety of ways,” SJ39 said. “Matt Ryan is a great leader for this team, and our X and Z receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White, are two of the best in the game. We have guys that are very good in the slot in Harry Douglas and Devin Hester. All those things make our passing game dangerous.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan echoed No. 39’s thoughts on Atlanta’s offensive line when asked where the Falcons offense is right now in their preparation for the 2014 season.
“I think we had a productive preseason,” Ryan said of the team’s offense. “I feel like we got into a little bit of a rhythm in that third preseason game, and we hope to be able to carry that over into Sunday. We know we’re going to have a tough challenge in front us, good defense we’re going against, but I think everybody’s confident with where we’re at.”
In his weekly press conference leading up to Sunday’s game Ryan noted in particular the importance of No. 39’s health as the lead man in a talented Atlanta rushing attack.
“Getting Steven back is big for us,” Ryan said. “Obviously he’s a dynamic player, and he’s going to be fresh and healthy out there for us, which when he’s on the field that’s a positive for us. I think it adds a lot of depth at the running back position for us. I think we can go three or four deep, and keep putting fresh guys out there that are capable to make big plays at any time. Having him back is really important for us.”
Though Steven believes the Falcons are as deep at the running back position as any team he’s been a part of, SJ remains confident in his ability as the bellcow lead back that he proved to be over nine years and more than 10,000 yards with the St. Louis Rams.
“I want to get back to being the running back that I’ve been over my career,” he said. “That means providing exciting plays, playing with authority, punishing the defense on the end of my runs, and being the tempo setter for this Atlanta Falcons team.”
With his hamstring healed and essentially a full complement of talented teammates surrounding him, SJ couldn’t be more anxious to finally hit the field Sunday.
“I’m extremely excited for Week 1,” SJ said. “It’s been a training camp that I missed the majority of the time, but I’ve been working hard physically and mentally to prepare for this coming Sunday; I feel good about it.”
Kickoff between the Falcons and the Saints is set for 1 p.m. EDT and the game can be seen on FOX.