Steven Jackson and the Rams make their first road trip of the 2010 season this weekend when they head to Cleveland for a preseason showdown with the Browns.
No. 39's status for the second preseason game remains up in the air and he told Nate Latsch of GridironGateway.com that he’s ok with either way the coaching staff decides to go.
"Mentally and physically I’m ready," S-Jax said. "I’m preparing as if I am going to go. I think it’s easier going with that mindset of preparing to get ready to play. If he says I’m down, I’ve already been mentally in that capacity of thinking I’m going to play. I’m preparing myself as the courses of the season are going to come, making sure I get a good read on the defense and things like that. So I’m preparing as if I’m going to go Saturday."
Steven said that the precautionary measures being taken have nothing to do with his back and are more focused on keeping his legs fresh for the season opener on September 12, the team’s top priority.
"I’ve told you guys repeatedly I’m not worried about the back. I think it’s something that probably...just get it on and over so we can stop answering the questions about it, but I feel great, though," he said. "I lean...either way [on playing in the preseason]. I’ve been in the offseason, in the preseason without playing games. I’ve participated in preseason games.
"I would say I would need it if I wasn’t getting banged around, but we’ve had a pretty physical camp around here. The more time I can buy getting ready for Arizona without having to play a full-out game puts us in a more safe comfort."
Observers in Rams camp so far have been impressed with the speed and explosiveness S-Jax has exhibited. ESPN’s Mike Sando took notice in his Rams Camp Confidential column:
"Jackson rehabbed from back surgery with a vengeance and he's looking strong as ever. Jackson also sounds happy. He clearly appreciates coach Steve Spagnuolo's evolving approach to training camp."
Steven told Latsch that he owes his strong start to changes in his training regimen and diet:
"During the month of July I kind of ratcheted up the weight training portion of it. I was lifting twice a day, morning and evening. Then I would do my conditioning in between the two weights exercises. Years previous, I would run twice and lift once. So that allowed me to put on a little more muscle. I changed my diet: More healthy proteins in my diet and cut back on those carbs so I can just build up that good, good protein and build the muscle up that I think I need for the season.
"You can never tell until I get into a game situation but practice, the speed of the game, my explosiveness in and out the hole, I feel crisp and I feel good. My lungs are there. My strength is there. So far, so good."
A LOOSE CAMP
Though the Rams are taking their training for the new season very seriously as they try to begin a franchise-wide turnaround, their second-year coach Steve Spagnuolo has learned that sometimes it’s important to break up the intensity.
With that in mind, the Rams have conducted some camp games this season to loosen up the group, the most recent of which was a night off from practice to instead conduct a punt competition among the coaches.
Steven said that things like that help to liven the mood around the team and he also noted that when your coach gives you a break, it’s something you remember and appreciate. Something that makes you go harder for him.
"That would have never happened last year," S-Jax said of the punt competition. "To get a night off, that was...normally with Coach Spags, if something is scheduled to happen it was going to happen regardless because he had already made up his mind that it was going to happen. For him to cancel that off...it’s funny, as professional athletes, you still want a bone. Once you get that bone, you want to go the extra mile for coach."
Steven also noted that the physicality of camp has been amped down a notch in order to keep everybody fresh for Week 1 when the fun really begins.
"We’re still getting the physical play, but we’re not going to the ground like we were last year," he said. "We really felt like the team going into Seattle Week 1, we felt like we were sluggish and tired, beat up still from training camp. I can really see that he’s made a concerted effort to make sure we still play physical football, but he’s made sure that we still are going to be able to go out and compete at a fast tempo."
To read more of what Steven had to say in his meeting with the media, click here.
PICK YOUR POISON
It’s often argued at this time of year: Who is the best running back in the NFL?
Last season, two men with drastically different styles led their conferences in rushing respectively. In the AFC, Tennessee’s Chris Johnson racked up more than 2,000 yards on his way to a rushing title. In the NFC, the leader was none other than SJ39, who piled up 1,416 yards on the ground while bruising through tacklers and dishing out a beating.
David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal recently explored the drastically different styles of S-Jax and CJ2K:
"The NFL, more than any other North American sports league, is filled with copycats. One team tries a new offensive scheme, the others follow. One player shimmies after scoring a touchdown, the entire league morphs into an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance."
That's what makes this next statement so odd: The two most-productive running backs in the league last season, Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson, are about as different from each other as humanly possible.
Mr. Johnson of the Tennessee Titans is 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds—a shrimp by NFL standards who is eight pounds lighter than the next-smallest starting running back in the league. Mr. Jackson of the St. Louis Rams, however, is 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds and heavier than all but two of the league's other starters."
Biderman writes of the contrasting running styles of both players while getting the valuable opinion of a former Ram who knows both very well:
"Their styles split even more when it comes to the way they run. More than one-third of Mr. Johnson's league-leading 2,006 rushing yards last season came on long gallops of 30 yards or more—giving him the highest percentage of long runs in a season in two decades among NFL running backs with at least 1,700 yards. By contrast, only 12% of Mr. Jackson's 1,416 yards (which ranked second in the NFL) came on long runs.
At the same time, it was Mr. Jackson who had the stronger performance in the middle distances. He carried the ball for between 10 and 15 yards on a remarkable 8% of his carries. Mr. Johnson achieved runs of that distance on just 5.6% of his runs, only slightly above NFL average.
"It's easy to love watching either of them," says Marshall Faulk, a legendary running back who works as an analyst for the NFL Network. "It shouldn't matter that they're so different."
Steven commented about the story on Twitter this week and offered his own take.
"Chasing CJ u might pull a hamstring. Tackling me u might have a concussion. (either way = long day)"
To read more from Biderman’s piece, click here.
Steven and the Rams take on the Cleveland Browns in the second game of the preseason. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CST
Jackson talks with the media (GridironGateway.com, August 19, 2010)
Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson: Two Scary Backs, Two different problems (Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2010)
Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams (ESPN.com, August 20, 2010)