I don't know that I'd go as far as saying Al Saunders is some sort of offensive Messiah, but the pressure and the hype thrust upon him to turn the Rams offense around this season is going to put him among the ranks of the game's great miracle workers. Already, Saunders' list of expectations includes putting Randy McMichael among the league's top TEs, getting Steven Jackson his 2,500 yards, breathing new life into Marc Bulger, turning two rookie wide receivers into first year phenoms, and saving Scott Linehan's hide, not to mention the future of the franchise in St. Louis.
That's a boatload of anointing for any deity, much less one man. He'll have help. On his long list of souls to save and things to do, getting Steven Jackson back into his role as the Rams feature back figures to be the easiest task, which of course depends in part on the o-line's status. But let's put that aside for now.
Jackson, after missing four games last season, is once again back at full strength. As he enters his fifth season in the league, his renown dedication, health and a rejuvenated supporting cast ought to clear the way for Jackson to resume his normal workload and make somewhere around 300 rushing attempts and somewhere closer to his 2006 receiving totals of 90 catches for 800+ yards and 3 TDs.
In a story that seems almost designed to drive traffic to their web site, ESPN and Scouts Inc. have compiled a list ranking the top 64 running backs in the NFL. As expected, LT is #1. In somewhat of a surprise, Adrian Peterson is #2. At #3 is none other than our very own Steven Jackson. Here's their take on SJ:
3. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Superpower -- His versatility. Jackson is an excellent inside-out runner who is smooth and fluid. He is light on his feet for his size and can make the first defender miss in the hole. He can run around or through defenders, making it difficult to get him off his feet. He has excellent hands and creates numerous mismatches for an opposing defensive coordinator.
Kryptonite -- Like many backs who get many touches, durability is a concern. At times, he could run a little more physically in short-yardage situations.
Durability questions haunt any running back. In the pro game, it's one of the most physically demanding roles because of the fast paced stopping, going, changing directions, and the constant contact. Knees just weren't meant to take that kind of abuse. It's why most running backs wash out after 30-years-old. Quite frankly, LT will be 29 when the season starts, and after 300+ carries for the last seven seasons, I'll be shocked if he starts all 16 games.
Fortunately for us, Jackson's only 25. Yes, anytime your marquee player spends time in the infirmary, especially during a 3 win season, fans are going to do some nail-biting until he finishes the season. You'll recall Jackson looked sharp, with fresh legs in the second half of the season last year. That time off last year should benefit him this season too.
Having said all that, I'll be interested to see where Jackson ranks on a similar list after this season. There's no reason he can't go into 2009, provided he has a contract with the Rams, atop that list, with Al Saunders looking on with an angelic glow of approval.