St. Louis Rams have Surprising Season, Led by Underrated RB Steven Jackson

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St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson certainly makes money like one of the best running backs in the game, but he doesn’t seem to get the publicity. Sure, hard-core football fans know he’s a star player, but Jackson doesn’t really obtain coverage commensurate to his accomplishments.

In midseason, Jackson surpassed Eric Dickerson as the Rams’ all-time leading rusher, with a 110-yard effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers On the weekend before before Thanksgiving, he recorded his 10,000th career yard from scrimmage on a first quarter run against the Atlanta Falcons. Truly an elite NFL club.

With 7,855 career rushing yards, Jackson is just a couple seasons away from becoming the 26th back in NFL history to reach 10,000 rushing yards. His team, albeit in one of the worst divisions in pro football history, finds themselves in the thick of the NFC West Division title/postseason race.

By Paul M. Banks

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After the dismissal of head coach Mike Martz in 2005, Jackson had a breakout season. With Scott Linehan as the new head coach, the Rams had a more balanced offensive attack. Jackson put up a 346-1,528-13 season and led all running backs when he caught 90 for 806, adding three touchdowns. He also led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage, was named to his first Pro Bowl and received a vote for the 2006 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award. He was also named the Rams MVP that season.

Like I said, Jackson certainly gets paid. To quote Nelly (this is Saint Louis after all), his “price range is rover.” (Or he has more “bread than aisle three” if you will).

In 2008, he signed a six-year contract worth a maximum of $49.3 million, including $21 million in guarantees ($11.4 million signing bonus). It made him the highest paid running back in the NFL.

But when people talk about the 6-8, yet residing in first place Rams, they usually mention first their QB, the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft, Sam Bradford. The franchise signal caller is having a pretty solid rookie season, completing 59% of his passes for 3,065 yards, 17 TDs, 14 ints, and a passer rating of 76.9.

“He’s done a great job since he came in, of just being mature and the ability to see things in the big picture of how to be a professional and how you look to improve,” Jackson said of Bradford at Cowboys Stadium during the Nike Football Media Summit last week.

“I just go about leading by example and if comes to him wanting an opinion or a shoulder to lean on, then I’m there for him,” Jackson said.

Jackson has put up some good numbers this season: 295 rushes for 1148 yards and 5 TDs, to go along with 39 receptions for 325.

“It has been rewarding to go from a one win team to having the ability to go to the playoffs and have meaningful games in December. It means a lot and it also gives us something to shoot for in the offseason,” Jackson said of the season after earlier stating the sense of urgency in these last two games.

“If you want to make the playoffs, then the season starts a little sooner for us than it does for most teams,” he said.

Obviously, tailback is one of the most physically taxing positions in the NFL. Running backs take so many hits on so many plays that very few of them stay in the league longer than 4-5 years. Jackson is in his seventh. Therefore, I asked him the key to his durability.

“I think I do a good job in my rehab, off-season training, making sure I stay in the weight room after games during the long season. In the month of December, I spend more time in the ice tub, getting massages. I always try to stay ahead of injuries, and don’t try to rehab when things have already gone bad,” he responded.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.com

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