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Rams review: running backs

The first year of the St. Louis Rams rebuilding project is in the books. Fans swallowed the early returns, a 1-15 season, with surprising amount of optimism due to their confidence in the vision of the franchise's new leadership. As the makeover continues and before roster gets any more reconfiguration, TST delves in for a look at the positions and players, grading their performance from the 2009 season and assessing their status for the next season. Today, we continue TST's Rams Review with the running backs, having covered tight ends and wide receivers recently.

For the Rams there's Steven Jackson and everyone else, and that's where the problem lies. No credible backup and a flaccid passing game left the Rams with a one dimensional offense that was easily shut down by opponents week after week. Lacking a legitimate threat behind Steven Jackson also puts SJ39 at greater risk of injury and the Rams at risk of averaging 3 points a game as opposed to the league-worst 10 points per game in 2009. Jumping in...

Steven Jackson

2009 Season: 324 attempts, 1416 yards, 4 TDs; 51 receptions, 322 receiving yards, 0 TDs
Though his numbers don't match his 2006 performance, I think this was Jackson's best season to date if for nothing else because of the impressive numbers he accumulated in spite of the offense around him. SJ39 had seven games in which he broke the 100-yard mark in rushing. As a receiver, he caught 51 balls, the second highest total of his career, but the yardage and TDs were severely lacking. That's where I fault the playcalling. Of course, with the passing game so anemic to begin with it wasn't like teams just couldn't key in on Jackson when he was lining up as a receiver or assign a LB or defensive back to cover him in the flat. One of the most impressive aspects Jackson added to his game this year was one of those so-called intangibles: this was the year that the Rams became Jackson's team, not only by default but because he embraced his role as a leader among the young group of players in the locker room.
Contract Status: Signed though 2013
Outlook: The only thing I worry about with Jackson is his ability to shoulder such a huge load. With 324 carries he didn't top his career total or cross the warning sign threshold of 370 carries. He fought through a late season back injury that forced him out in week 16. If the Rams don't upgrade the offense with better players at the skill positions - QB, WR, and backup RB - Jackson's career will be much shorter than it should be.
Grade: A+

Kenneth Darby

2009 Season: 27 attempts, 152 yards, 0 TDs; 18 receptions, 96 receiving yards, 0 TDs
Darby looked good in limited work. He knows the playbook and has decent enough hands to make him a third down option, but lacks speed and an ability to break tackles to be more than a situational guy. Of course, with a better offense around him, he might be able to contribute more.
Contract Status: Restricted free agent
Outlook: He's a useful player to have around, but not the answer behind Jackson. And, what does he have that Chris Ogbonnaya doesn't have?
Grade: C-

Samkon Gado

2009 Season: 14 attempts, 26 yards; 3 receptions, 25 receiving yards
Gado's preseason went well enough, but he was entirely forgettable in the regular season. For some mysterious reason, the Rams used him as a short yardage back, never getting much reward for that decision. Simply put, Gado just doesn't offer much.
Contract Status: Restricted free agent
Outlook: The Rams were uneasy with their backup RB situation from the start of the season, bringing in all kinds of guys to audition for the job. It's a safe bet that Gado's gone.
Grade: F

Chris Ogbonnaya

2009 Season: 11 attempts, 50 yards; 1 reception, 19 yards
The Rams seventh round draft pick from the University of Texas saw all of his action in the last two games of the season, getting most of his work in week 16 with Jackson sitting out. It's tough to judge any Rams running backs those last two weeks of the season since the offensive line was mostly made up of replacements; however, Ogbonnaya did manage to average 4.5 yards per attempt.
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
Outlook: Ogbonnaya looked intriguing enough that he earned further looks in spring practices and camp. He might be a better third down/end zone option than Darby.
Grade: Incomplete

Mike Karney

2009 Season: 2 attempts, 8 yards; 6 receptions, 16 yards
Karney did a fine job as a lead blocker, and once he got his timing down with Jackson and the offense he made a huge impact.
Contract Status: Signed through 2011
Outlook: Injuries will always be a concern with Karney, as they are for any player assigned such a bruising job. He's a big part of the running game now.
Grade: B+