Monday, June 23, 2008

Rams' Jackson speaks nothing but the truth

Everything about Steven Jackson is outsized. He laughs big, he runs big, and
oh, my goodness, he talks big.

When the Rams' all-pro running back talks, the truth tends to come out of his
mouth in all of its unfiltered, sometimes uncomfortable glory. I happen to like
that about him, for what his unsettling words usually lack in diplomacy, they
more than make up for with disturbing spot-on honesty.

Since arriving in town four years ago, the man with the flowing dreadlocks has
readily spoken his mind about his playing time, his uneasy coexistence with
Marshall Faulk, his public image, his desire for greatness and his
underachieving teammates. Much to the mortification of the team's always
anxious public relations staff, Jackson has even dared to tread on the
ultra-sensitive subject of the fickle St. Louis fan base.

So how coincidental was it that in the same week the Rams broke out their new,
edgy "Bring It!" ticket sales ad campaign

featuring Jackson stomping through a full page in your sports section, the
outspoken runner was mounting an even more edgy campaign of his own to rouse
Rams fans out of their '07 malaise.

In an interview with Michael Silver of, "The Train" brought it hard,
chiding Rams fans for selling their tickets to Packers and Steelers fans last
season. ("It was like playing road games," he said. "We ran out of the tunnel
and got booed. It was ridiculous. I was livid.") If you want to characterize
that as controversial, feel free. The truth is, what he told Silver is nothing
we haven't already heard here in St. Louis.

After the Packers game last December, a seething Jackson sat in front of his
locker stall at the Edward Jones Dome and ripped into the fans. "It's a joke,
as simple as that," Jackson said, the words spitting out of his mouth in
disgusted staccato bursts. When someone asked Jackson if at times it felt like
he was at Lambeau Field, the disgruntled tailback barely let the reporter
finish the question. "We were at Lambeau Field," he snapped. "The whole first
level was Green Bay Packer fans. And then we're allowing them to put up signs."

So tell me once again, what did Jackson say that wasn't right on the money
about the state of pro football in St. Louis?

Later in the article, Jackson basically said there are plenty of
reasons why the 2008 season should be worth the price of admission. He said
because he's in a contract year, he has to produce. He said because the team is
coming off a disastrous 3-13 season, coach Scott Linehan has to produce. He
said because the team's ownership future is unclear, even the franchise's
future in St. Louis is unclear. All of those factors are reasons why the Rams
should be plenty motivated to go from worst to first.

Again, Jackson spoke the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

If you think this is a fool who pops off on ill-advised, selfish rants like
T.O., you don't know Jackson. He's an intelligent man who knows the weight of
every one of his potent words. When you hear him ripping on fans, it's a rant
with a purpose. It's his way of letting them know that they have to play a part
in this Rams revival, too. The Dome has to return to those Sundays when it was
one of the most imposing home-field advantages in the NFL.

When he stomped off the field during games last year and screamed at teammates
and coaches, that was purposeful, too. Too many dumb play calls and
undisciplined penalties. If he's one of the main cogs on this team, it's his
job to open his mouth and get on underachieving teammates. That's what team
leaders are supposed to do.

If you think it was a careless error for him to criticize his wide receivers
for not blocking for him in the interview, you're missing the point.
I think it was a well-thought-out surgical strike and a loaded message aimed
directly at some veterans who had off years last season and are being expected
to be more ferocious downfield blockers in Al Saunders' new system.

Since the '07 season ended, Linehan has repeatedly said that he expects his
veterans to be more vocal and exert more leadership than any of them displayed
during the train wreck of last season. By simply telling the truth — no matter
how uneasy that truth might be — Jackson is doing just that.

I keep reading that interview and I can't find anything that Jackson said that
wasn't true. So how can the truth be a problem?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Inside Slant

There's one week remaining in the Rams' OTA work for the offseason, but this week saw a significant change on the offensive line.

After working for the first two weeks and the mandatory minicamp at center in competition with Brett Romberg, Mark Setterstrom is now the team's right guard. Richie Incognito, who played right guard for the final three games of the 2006 season and the four games he was able to play in 2007, is now competing with Romberg for the starting center job. Romberg was able to play just nine games last season.

Setterstrom played guard in college and started six games at left guard in 2006. He opened the 2007 season at that position, but played in only three games before injuring his knee and missing the remainder of the season. Early in free agency, the Rams signed Jacob Bell from the Titans to play left guard.

Coach Scott Linehan said the move was designed to get "the best five players on the field at the positions they play best."

It would be surprising for Romberg to beat out Incognito, who started 12 games at center in 2006. However, Linehan said Romberg will begin training camp as the starter.

Incognito admitted to some surprise at the switch, but claimed not to be disappointed at moving from a clear starting spot to one where he is in a competition.

"It's great," Incognito said. "Whatever is best for the team. This will make us both better players. We're good friends and now we will be in competition with each other."

Incognito knows wherever he plays, he has to cut down on some of the feisty play that has led to 15-yard penalties.

"It's just a growing and maturation process," he said. "You just have to know when to choke it back. Some of the stuff is real close. Some of the stuff, the whistle blew ... I'm playing hard, sometimes I don't hear the whistle.

"A lot of the stuff is stupid, ticky-tack on my end that I need to cut out of my game to be a better football player."

Because of the mental demands of playing center, Incognito was asked if playing there would cut down on his aggressiveness.

"No way," he said. "You can play as physical as you want at any position."

He wants everyone on the line to step up their game. He said, "A lot of the stuff is just playing the whole game through and playing real physical. We (need to) have five guys doing it. That's our M.O. If they see we play hard, we play physical all through the end of the play ... there is a lot more leniency when a whole unit is doing it instead of just one guy."

—The Rams were awarded quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who was placed on waivers Monday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oakland and Chicago also made claims for Gradkowksi, but the Rams had priority because they had the worst 2007 record of the claiming teams.

The Rams have been looking for a younger quarterback, preferably one with experience, that will compete with Brock Berlin in training camp for the No. 3 job, but be able to play should Marc Bulger and Trent Green not be available.

Gradkowski started 11 games for the Buccaneers as a rookie in 2006 and played in four games last season.

—The Rams are close to finalizing a schedule of practice days with the Tennessee Titans prior to the Aug. 9 exhibition game between the two teams.

The Rams will likely leave their Wisconsin training camp the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 5 and practice twice Wednesday and once Thursday with the Titans in Nashville. Friday is expected to be an off day, although they will probably have a light walk-through.

After the game, the Rams will return to Wisconsin and then break camp Aug. 14.
—Coach Scott Linehan said the team's attendance at the voluntary workouts has been "the best since I've been here."

Linehan added, "It's a big commitment by the players. We meet in the morning, are on the field for what we're allowed, and then meet again afterward. We have to get it all in within six hours. But these guys are anxious to have a great year and the work ethic has been great."

—With all the rain that has hit the St. Louis area in recent weeks, kicker Josh Brown has sometimes thought he's back in Seattle.

"I'm sick of rain," Brown said. "That's what happens in the Midwest in April and May. I'm just glad no tornadoes are coming by the motel right now."

Brown was signed on the first day of free agency when longtime kicker Jeff Wilkins retired. Said Brown, "Jeff left a great amount of space to fill. He did a great job for a long time. I just want to concentrate on carrying on what I've already learned and what I've started to accomplish and the reputation I already have. Jeff played here for a long time, and he will be missed, but I'm kind of glad the job is open."

Coach Scott Linehan said it was fortunate Brown was available and the Rams were able to move quickly to get him signed.

"It is nice, I can tell you that," Linehan said. "I think this thing about 'Wilky' and what he meant to this team and the whole thing with him retiring with all of the emotions we went through during the offseason was sad.

"It was really sad to see his career come to an end. To have Josh come in and fill his role is a bittersweet kind of a deal, but it is nice to have Josh here. I'm glad we had a chance to replace Jeff with a guy of his caliber, that's for sure."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That probably puts the biggest smile on my face out of this whole thing. It is going to be great being able to concentrate on kicking inside and not having to worry about Mother Nature that much. I can focus in on what I have to do rather than contend with her at the same time." - PK Josh Brown on moving from Seattle to kicking in a dome for at least eight games every season.


MEDICAL WATCH: RB Steven Jackson, who tweaked an ankle two weeks ago, missed work this week after injuring his groin Tuesday (June 3). ... TE Joe Klopfenstein was sidelined by back spasms. ... WR/KR Dante Hall was on the sideline with a groin injury.