St. Louis Rams RB Kenneth Darby struggled against the New York Jets in the team's preseason opener last week. He entered the game as the favorite to backup RB Steven Jackson, but problems in pass protection and just 16 yards on 6 carries might have cost him his role as Jackson's understudy. Then again, maybe it's something about playing the Jets.
Last year, Darby made his debut at RB in the Rams 47-3 disembowelment at the hands of the Jets. In that game Darby fumbled twice. His first one didn't count thanks to a defensive penalty. A late second quarter fumble, after a nice 13-yard run, turned into a Jets field goal just two plays later. He did run a little better in the game last season, picking up 32 yards on 4 carries. Darby did not fumble again for the rest of the season.
But what about his pass protection? Darby was on the field for at least one of the two sacks the Jets had on Marc Bulger, the one that resulted in a turnover and a TD by the Jets defense. That sack was not the result of pass protection from Darby. The former member of the Falcons practice squad looked absolutely lost in pass protection on Friday, but there's a disconnect here. Last season, when Darby made a great impression in limited duty with the Rams, and throughout this offseason, the question was whether or not Darby could transcend from being a good third down back, i.e. a guy that can catch passes and block, to a true #2 runner. He didn't do much to assure anyone of his ability as a backup, but the failures in pass protection don't reconcile with the talk, here at TST and all over the press last year, of Darby's ability as a good back for passing situations.
Which makes me wonder if this was another case of the opening night jitters or just not enough time reading blitzes in practice. Either way, Darby has a long climb back after his last game.
Steven Jackson has a number of cringe worthy performances in pass protection. He came to camp this year with expectations of becoming a more complete back, self-imposed as well as team-mandated expectations. Clearly, he's got more work to do reading and reacting to blitzes.
With three more preseason games and a gaggle of practices left, stay tuned.