Rams RB Steven Jackson preparing for heavy workload

2010-08-12T00:05:00Z 2010-09-02T01:31:21Z Rams RB Steven Jackson preparing for heavy workloadBY JIM THOMAS jthomas@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

For Steven Jackson, the tone has softened but the message hasn't really changed. The two-time Pro Bowler still doesn't see an overwhelming need for veteran backup help in the Rams' backfield.

"Having a veteran at this point of the game now, I don't know if it's as big a concern as everyone is making it to be," Jackson said Wednesday. "I feel great physically. The younger guys are coming along just fine. And if we continue to stay healthy, I don't think it'll be a concern."

Which is a far cry from Jackson's thoughts on the subject in November 2008: "They can bring in any running back. I'm going to beat him out and I'm not going to share my carries. I understand that they have to have an insurance policy, but that's just my mentality."

Make no mistake, Jackson still wants to carry the load at running back. Sam Bradford may be the team's franchise quarterback, but Jackson remains the franchise back.

But while the rest of the team prepares for Saturday's preseason opener against Minnesota, the only date circled on Jackson's calendar is Sept. 12 — the regular-season opener against Arizona.

Jackson isn't expected to play against the Vikings. But he remains on course for Sept. 12 and has increased his practice workload.

"He's stepped it up a little more this week," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "And that was part of the plan — get a few more reps."

This has been a different sort of training camp for Jackson. After back surgery to repair a herniated disk in April, Jackson was so excited to be back on the field that he prepared for the first practice (July 31) as if it were game day.

"This offseason I really emphasized making sure that the back was secure," Jackson said. "I built up the muscles in my core (torso) to make sure that I can go out and play just like I have in years past. I didn't want it to be a nagging injury, and I didn't want this to play mind games with me, and feel like I had to be more timid."

When he gets that first handoff Sept. 12 against the Cardinals, Jackson wants to hold nothing back. With one month to go until opening day, Jackson believes he's on track.

"The back is fully healed," he said. "The football, the hitting ... I'm not worried about it. I'll be ready to go."

By design, Jackson sat out Saturday's scrimmage at Lindenwood University. It's all part of the plan worked out in consultation with the coaching staff and head athletic trainer Reggie Scott.

Last week as camp opened, Jackson took minimal reps, although he took part in every drill. It wasn't a huge workload. The pace accelerated this week.

"I've ramped up my reps," Jackson said. "So we're going in the right direction. We're progressively going uphill, to be able to make sure I peak at the right time in my training and get ready for the opener. I think everything is going good; everything is going right to schedule."

Jackson said Wednesday that the topic of how much playing time he gets in the preseason has yet to be discussed at Rams Park. But back surgery or not, he never gets much. Last preseason, for example, Jackson had only 11 touches.

He missed all of the '08 preseason in a camp holdout, had only two touches (both on receptions) in '07, and had 22 touches (19 carries and three catches) in '06.

Instead, he'll get his work in on the practice field, staying assignment sharp and working with the younger running backs. At the moment, second-year man Chris Ogbonnaya is the heavy favorite to win the No. 2 job behind Jackson.

Kenneth Darby (hamstring) and undrafted rookie Keith Toston (concussion) have been slowed by injury. Toston is back on the practice field, but Darby has been sidelined this week. The only other running back on the roster is undrafted rookie Jamie McCoy, who also is working at fullback and was a tight end at Texas A&M.

Overall, Jackson thinks the Rams will be a better screen pass team this season. And he can see the overall timing starting to click in the passing game.

"Now, in Week 2 of camp, you're starting to see the guys understand the concept of routes," he said. "They've had enough time to work with the quarterbacks, so the quarterbacks kind of know the timing of some guys. The speed, the rate of some of the cuts, the body language."

Even with some injuries up front, Jackson also sees the beginning of continuity on the offensive line.

"I'm really happy with the way things are going," Jackson said.

But once again, there will be no bold predictions for SJ39. Three years ago, his stated goal was 2,500 yards rushing-receiving. Those days are gone. Unlike his views on the No. 2 running back, Jackson's message has changed here.

"Individual success is not something that I'm focused on," he said. "It just keeps me having job security — I think that's how I look at it. But I'm really focused on turning this franchise around, getting back to those winning ways, and hopefully I'm a main part of that."

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