Ram on? Jackson OK with St. Louis
Not long ago, a St. Louis newspaper columnist described Steven Jackson this way:
'He's like a Hemi engine in an old beat-up car with a busted windshield, a bad transmission and flat tires. The engine runs great, but that car isn't going anywhere.'
Sad, but that's the way it is for St. Louis' star running back these days.
The former Oregon State great is having a productive season, with 895 yards rushing and 30 receptions despite missing most of two games with a quad strain.
But the Rams are 2-11 and just playing out the string this season. And with the offensive line decimated by injury, the running game has gone south in recent weeks.
In the past four games - all losses - Jackson has carried 62 times for 188 yards, a pedestrian 3.0-yard average.
'It's pretty frustrating,' Jackson said Monday night after the Rams' 30-13 loss to Seattle at CenturyLink field. 'You enter the season with high hopes, especially after missing the playoffs by one game (at 7-9) last year. To have won two games … it's really frustrating.
'I get asked a lot how I keep going. To be honest, it's because of love of the game. I absolutely love playing the game of football.'
Jackson, 28, was that way during his three years at Oregon State under Dennis Erickson and Mike Riley. And he has been that way through his eight years in the NFL, all in St. Louis after being chosen by the Rams in the first round of the 2004 draft after his junior season at OSU.
What a career Jackson has put together. He is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro. In 2006, he enjoyed one of the great seasons ever by an NFL running back, rushing for 1,528 yards and 13 TDs while catching 90 passes for 806 yards and three scores. In 2009, he led the NFL with 1,416 yards on the ground.
Jackson, now closing in on his seventh straight 1,000-yard season, has 8,843 career yards rushing, 32nd on the NFL's all-time list. Last year, he broke Marshall Faulk's career mark for the Rams' franchise.
This year has been rough sledding, though, in part because St. Louis has lost two starting tackles and a starting guard for the season due to injuries. Because of it, center Bryan Mattison has moved to right guard.
'We pretty much have shuffled the whole offensive line,' Jackson said.
Against the Seahawks, Jackson carried 10 times for 50 yards in the first half, and took a screen pass 50 yards in the third quarter. There was little running room in the second half, though, as he rushed 10 times for 13 yards the final two quarters. Most of the time, he was running into a brick wall.
'It's fair to say that,' Jackson said with a nod. 'We're going with a lot of guys who are reserves, and a lot of guys who didn't start the season off with this team. Time and time again we have some opportunities to make plays, but one guy misses a block, or we look out of sync.
'But those guys are fighting. That's all I can ask for at this point.'
Jackson's attitude through the losing, it seems, has been good.
'I'm just trying to be determined and show the guys despite what this may look like, just play hard 60 minutes and see what happens at the end of a game,' he said. 'That's why you play. Anything can happen on any given Sunday.'
Jackson was chiseled at Oregon State, but now he is built along the lines of an Adonis at 6-2 and 240 pounds. It's why he was a featured model in ESPN The Magazine's annual 'Body' edition.
'I got to the Super Bowl last year and the editor for the magazine comes up to me and says, 'Have you heard of the Body issue?' ' Jackson said. 'I say, 'Yeah, of course.' He says, 'Would you like to do it?' I say, 'Sure.'
'Then I don't hear from him and, I'm thinking maybe he was making small talk. But I get a phone call right before training camp starts, and it's him. 'Hey, you still want to do it?' Well, 'You know, why not?' '
At 28, Jackson is in the prime of his career.
'It's at that point where my physical capabilities and the mental aspect are coming together,' he said. 'You hear guys say you have this point where the game is slowing down for you - you know what to expect.
'I see that. I feel that. I know how to prepare each week for a long season. All those things about being a professional are coming together. That's why you see me continue to be so explosive, especially late in my career.'
Jackson's NFL success has been achieved on a personal level, but as a team, the Rams have mostly sucked. His rookie year - when he served as Faulk's backup - they went 8-8 and reached the second round of the playoffs, beating the Seahawks in a wild-card game.
Since then, they've never reached the postseason, going an NFL-worst 29-90 since 2005.
I figured Jackson, who is contracted through 2013, might be disgruntled and desirous of a change of scenery. He's not. He has two young sons, aged 5 and 2.
'I have a family now,' Jackson said. 'I would hate to uproot them.
'Ideally, I would love to stay in St. Louis. The fan base has embraced me. We've grown together. They've seen me mature. It rarely happens with free agency, but if I could go out the way I want to, I'd like to retire as a Ram.'
Jackson isn't giving up on the idea that the Rams can turn it around, as early as next season. He loves second-year quarterback Sam Bradford, whose progress has been slowed by injury and adaptation to playing under first-year offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
'Sam is a star,' Jackson said. 'He is going to be a spectacular quarterback in this league. He's in his second offense in two years. Give him a little time.
'We have a lot of moving parts in our offensive line. Once we have an offseason and time to jell in an offense - that's all we need. That's the thing we're lacking, is the ability to get everyone on the same page.'
I love that Jackson shows loyalty to the franchise that drafted him, even with the lack of success the Rams have through his career. Some players in his situation would be bailing. He is determined to stay and fight.
It's good to see he's not a prima donna, either. Good kid at Oregon State. Good man in St. Louis.
With good health during the next few years, Jackson has a chance to make it to the Hall of Fame. I hope he gets to taste the playoffs again, too. May that jalopy turn into a dragster real soon.