Runner takes a new role: receiver

Versatile Steven Jackson may be the Beavers' best weapon against defenses

CORVALLIS Ñ Oregon State is pushing Steven Jackson as a candidate for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back.

Jackson's goals are threefold:

• Break his school record of 1,690 yards rushing, set last season;

• Repeat as the Pac-10 rushing leader; and

• 'Help my team go to the Rose Bowl.'

All showy stuff, for sure. But new coach Mike Riley knows he has something special in the 6-3, 230-pound junior-to-be from Las Vegas. Jackson averaged 24.5 carries per game in 2002 and can expect at least that many next season. And Riley has an additional role for his franchise player: receiver.

Last year, Jackson caught only 17 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

'We are going to throw the ball to him, whether it is a screen pass or something,' Riley says. 'He is an outstanding receiver with really good hands. I think Steven can be a weapon that way for us.'

Jackson likes the sound of it.

'It will give the fans a little something different. It is really fun for me. It shows another ability I have,' he says. 'As a runner, you have seven or eight guys keying on you at the line of scrimmage. As a receiver, you get the ball in the open field and have a chance to go one-on-one with a defender. That is an advantage for me.'

Last season, Jackson was dropped for losses 34 times for 107 yards, a number almost unheard of for a runner of his caliber. Using him as a receiving threat should help keep defenses from flooding the line of scrimmage to stop the run.

Riley also says he plans to use Jackson on more quick hitters, and do a better job with the zone blocking so prevalent in predecessor Dennis Erickson's offense.

Jackson is impressed with Riley and his staff.

'They are kind of the opposite of Erickson's coaches. This staff is more family-oriented,' he says. 'Everything we do is like a family and about caring about each other. Not saying Coach Erickson's staff didn't care about us or being a family, but these coaches talk about it more. I think we are an even more close-knit team now.

'If there is a better coach to replace coach Erickson than coach Riley, I would like to know who it is. I give our athletic director (Bob De Carolis) credit; he made a good choice. It has been a smooth transition so far.'

Riley has quickly grown fond of Jackson, as a player and a person.

'Steven is a very impressive young man,' Riley says. 'You can watch for a short period of time and see he is very gifted physically, at a much different level than most players you see. He is fast, he is big, he is strong and has great vision as a runner.

'And after being around him, you see the quality of the individual. He is smart, has great personal habits, is a great character guy. He really has a lot going for him.'

That's why Riley was disappointed to learn that Jackson was cited with a violation by Corvallis police for misrepresentation of age by a minor at a Corvallis tavern last week. Jackson, who turns 20 in July, tried to use a friend's drivers license to enter the premises. Riley says he has handled the matter internally but will not punish Jackson with a suspension in the fall.

Jackson, who says he doesn't drink alcohol, says he learned a lesson.

'I was being naive as a person,' he says. 'I was just trying to be a regular college student and didn't realize the kind of presence I walk around with in this town. It was an eye-opener that will keep me on my toes. I still have some maturing to do.'

Notes: Riley says Jackson might not play in Saturday's scrimmage at Reser Stadium. 'I don't know how much tackling Steven needs to be exposed to,' he says. É One of the more promising aspects of spring practice has been the development of starting quarterback Derek Anderson. 'Derek has looked better just about every day,' Riley says. É The spring game is April 26 at Reser Stadium.

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