In 2012, the St. Louis Rams made a conscious decision to get younger, and it’s paid dividends thus far. Deciding to trade experienced veterans for dynamic youth doesn’t come without it’s drawbacks though. Experience isn’t a personal trait - it’s learned, it’s acquired over time. Some of the best experience and knowledge comes from veterans players; their predecessors, if you will. There's a caveat though... It only works if a young player is willing to learn. Experience equips a player with the knowledge needed to succeed in the league, along with the ability to persevere.
One of the Rams’ largest concerns of the 2013 off season was finding a running back to supplant their all-time leading rusher - Steven Jackson. Sticking to the plan, the Rams didn't go out seeking the services of a cheaper [than Jackson] veteran option. They were committed to a stable of running backs which included two sophomores, and a pair of rookies. In fairness, the "shoes that needed filling" couldn’t have been filled in free agency, and sticking with their draft picks speaks volumes about the coaching staff's confidence in the depth at the position.
A bit of veteran advice could go a long way, though. And while Rams’ running backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead had one full season to learn from the aforementioned Rams’ legend, 108 carries [heading into 2013] is insufficient playing time to consider them ‘experienced,’ especially when their opportunities came only in backup roles.
It would appear Richardson, Pead, Zac Stacy, and Benny Cunningham will have to learn the intricacies of the NFL the hard way. Through trials and tribulations - ups and downs - and imminent mistakes, the Rams’ young rushers will forge ahead without the guidance of an experienced, future Hall-of-Famer.
That’s not entirely true…
Though #39 will don a Atlanta Falcons uniform on Sunday, his distance from his former team hasn’t left him completely out of touch. In fact, he's made it clear that some of the Rams’ players have picked up the phone… and he appreciates it when they do.
"They’ve done a good job of just checking in on me periodically, making sure that things are going smooth for me and they wish me the best of luck on this season. We’ve all mutually agreed that we’re going to play each other hard come Sunday, but after that we’re going to root each other on throughout the season."
Rams' fans wouldn't want it any other way. Seeing Steven Jackson in red and black - standing behind Matt Ryan in the Falcons’ backfield - will certainly bring about a variety of emotions for the Rams’ faithful. A consummate professional, Jackson understands the business side of the NFL, and will look to prove there’s still plenty of "gas in the tank" on Sunday.
"It really does because over the years, having so many different teammates, you really never know if you really have any impact on the guys that are there now. Staying in touch with some of the guys around the building, it means a lot. Sometimes when you leave a situation, you’re quickly forgotten because you’re not around but the guys have been good to me."
"I talk to Daryl on various things, we don’t only talk football. I talk to him mainly about how to handle being a pro and that entails being on the field and off the field. How to conduct yourself during interviews, how to take care of his body throughout the week and continually how to make yourself better. It’s those dog days where no one wants to go to practice, no one wants to work, that you have to push yourself through and kind of mirror yourself as an engine. When guys are down or you’re having a sluggish practice, you’ve got to come out running hard to motivate guys, to up the ante."
Steven Jackson's messages may be long distance, but Daryl Richardson is still receiving them. Only 23 years old, Richardson is acquiring a wealth of knowledge from one of the NFL’s finest. Note the message[s]. Jackson isn’t giving Richardson advice on how to read defenses, find space, or protect his QB on passing downs. Jackson is giving D-Rich lessons in "the game" which can only be obtained through one of it’s greatest players, and it go beyond x’s and o's.