The NFL lockout is ending soon, real soon. And that means teams can get back to the business of preparing for the 2011 NFL season. Just as important, we fans can get back to the business of preparing ourselves for the season. To get back up to speed, TST grinding out our annual roster review, taking a look at where the St. Louis Rams stand on the eve of free agency and camp.
This afternoon, let's talk about running backs. All that and more after the jump.
Steven Jackson - Jackson is a machine. Unfortunately, even machines have their limitations. Fans and pundits alike debate just what limitations Jackson faces this season after so much abuse being the only consistently effective offensive weapon the team had for years. Some even think Jackson is on the downhill side of his career. Jackson is coming from two seasons with 750 total touches and does have a checkered past when it comes to injuries. However, he has yet to miss more than four games.
Don't write his career obituary just yet though. One of the less heralded parts of being a great athlete is longevity. Look at the top running backs throughout history, and you'll see a list of guy whose bodies beat the odds. Jackson has a chance to join that group; he's already the Rams' all-time leading rusher, impressive for a franchise that includes HOFers like Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk. However, Jackson also plays at a time when running backs are no longer the focus of NFL offenses. That's okay too, since it should allow his career to last a little longer.
With a more potent offense, the field should open up more for Jackson. Frankly, I'm a little astonished that the Rams still, reportedly, want to use him as the main between the tackles guy, but there's no doubt he does have power to do that. They'll have to come up with a better answer at guard in order to have more assurance that those plans will work.
I still like the idea of the Rams using Jackson's versatility, having Bradford move him around the field prior to the snap. Defenses would lose sleep thinking about how to defend the Rams offense in those situations.
Jackson likely won't touch the ball as much this season. The Rams had both Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure high on their draft boards this year. They want to add a running back to share the load with Jackson. They will add a running back to share the load with Jackson. They must add a running back to share the load with Jackson.
Who will that running back be?
Keith Toston - Toston signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. During the regular season he accumulated just 19 carries for an average of 2.8 YPC. His preseason numbers weren't special either. However, he shows flashes of some ability to work between the tackles. You can bet the Rams will add a running back through free agency, both the expensive kind and the undrafted rookie kind. Toston will have to work hard to keep his roster spot through camp and the preseason.
Chauncey Washington - A seventh-round pick last year by the Jaguars, the Rams added Washington in late September, picking the USC product off the Jets' practice squad. A special teamer that ended up on the practice squad, his specialty is bashing his way through the line. Like Toston, he'll need to make his case during camp and the preseason.
What about Kenneth Darby, you ask? The Rams declined to extend Darby a RFA tender, signaling their lack of interest in bringing him back.
There's a new offensive coordinator in town, as you may have heard, who will bring his own approach to the running backs.
A couple names being mentioned as possible free agent targets: Darren Sproles, Steve Slaton, Cadillac Williams, Jason Snelling and Reggie Bush. Of those players, Sproles is the one most likely to be a Ram whenever this lockout mess gets sorted out and free agency begins. Clearly, they want a speedier guy who can be a receiving threat as well as a runner.
There are also a number of undrafted free agents out there who will be on the radar for GM Billy Devaney.
Here's the rest of our depth chart review so far. We'll be continuing this through Tuesday. Tomorrow, 3k has a look at the defensive line.