The visual might make St. Louis fans cringe, but running back Steven Jackson might fit nicely in New England if his Rams career ends following the 2012 season.
Take a deep breath, Rams fans. Jackson isn't going anywhere yet.
But the thought of him in a New England uniform next season came to mind Thursday upon reading through comments from Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The comments reflected a deep appreciation for Jackson's receiving skills. They brought together in my mind a set of circumstances to consider as Jackson and the Rams prepare to face the Patriots in London.
Jackson, still seeking his first winning season in the NFL, has said he wants to finish his career with the Rams. It's also clear he might not fit into the team's plans as prominently while the organization continues to rebuild through the draft under new leadership.
Unable to agree on a contract extension, Jackson recently negotiated into his contract an opt-out clause following the 2012 season. That clause would allow him to seek an opportunity with a team that might be a little closer to contending for a championship. A team like the Patriots. Otherwise, Jackson would be scheduled to earn $7 million in 2013.
New England has a history of using older running backs under Belichick. Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor, Corey Dillon, Sammy Morris, Antowain Smith and LaMont Jordan were all in their 30s when they played for New England over the past decade or so.
Jackson, 29, already knows the Patriots' offense. He played in Josh McDaniels' system last season, before McDaniels left the Rams to coordinate the Patriots' offense. The Rams' 2011 season did not go as planned, but Jackson did like the way McDaniels' offense could, at its best, feature him as more than just a power runner. He was looking forward to running routes normally reserved for wideouts.
"That’s definitely part of my game that I've been missing the last couple of seasons," Jackson told reporters before the 2011 season. "I'm looking forward to having that challenge, proving to the rest of the league that I’m more than just a downhill, first- and second-down kind of running back. I think if anyone could help me re-establish myself as a franchise back, an all-around back, I think Josh will do that."
As noted, Belichick likes that part of Jackson's game as well.
"He has the quickness to be elusive on the second level, avoid guys, and he’s also got the power to put his shoulder down and run through guys," Belichick told reporters covering the Patriots this week. "He's a hard guy to tackle. As I said, his production in the passing game is very good too. Not just screens, but actual route running, going out there, getting open, beating linebackers and he’s a great target for the quarterback to throw to."
Belichick said he spent a full day with Jackson before the 2004 draft. The two got together in Las Vegas, where Jackson played high school football. Belichick said that was more convenient at the time than meeting at Oregon State, where Jackson played in college.
"He's a very impressive individual," Belichick said. "Obviously a big, strong kid that runs well, that catches the ball very well, very good in the passing game; I think he’s probably a little underrated in that area. Good in blitz pickup, smart guy, he’s really had an outstanding career. He definitely was a guy that we were very much interested in."