Zac Stacy's standout season a throwback

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There was a time when 1,000 rushing yards in a season was a milestone held in high regard around the NFL. It was a number that was difficult to reach because of the pounding running backs took from week to week.

That was in a time before the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Runners who hit the 1,000-yard mark before then did it in 14 games and, even more impressive, 12 before that.

As St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy closes in on reaching that mark in his rookie season, it wouldn’t seem to be an achievement that should move the needle much.

But if Stacy can piece together the 146 yards he needs to reach 1,000 in the next two weeks, his 1,000-yard season will carry a bit more weight than the many others in the club for 2013.

“Considering he got a late start, I think it would be quite a feat, especially against some of the defenses that we faced this year,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

Indeed, based on Stacy’s late start, a 1,000-yard season would fall more in line with the likes of backs of the 1950s than those who play today. In many ways, that would be a fitting accomplishment for Stacy, who runs with an old-school, hard-charging style reminiscent of the backs of yesteryear.

After coming to St. Louis as a fifth-round draft choice in April, Stacy battled some injury issues in training camp and the preseason. It left him behind the pack in the team’s running back competition and he started at the bottom of the depth chart.

Through the team’s first four games, Stacy was active just twice and carried once for 4 yards. In desperate need of a reliable running game, the Rams turned to a healthy Stacy in hopes he could ignite something.

What they got was the key to a shift in offensive philosophy that turned the course of the season.

“It was definitely frustrating from a standpoint of just I’m a competitor and I want to be out on the field and help this team and this offense be successful,” Stacy said. “I just pretty much played the waiting game, was given the opportunity and took advantage of it.”

That’s putting it mildly. Aside from a couple of tough outings against Arizona and San Francisco, Stacy has been the driving force for the offense, adding new wrinkles to his game seemingly every week.

Since taking over as starter in Week 5, Stacy has 850 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in the NFL in that span. His 854 rushing yards are the third most by a rookie in franchise history. If he gets to 1,000, he’ll join Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis as the only rookie rushers in Rams history to get there.

“That would be amazing,” quarterback Kellen Clemens said. “I don’t know where he’s at. That would be great. Certainly, the way that we lean on the run game, hopefully it’s possible. Hopefully he gets his carries.”

Getting carries certainly hasn’t been a problem for Stacy. He’s carried 201 times since Week 5, trailing only the 233 attempts of Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy in that time period.

That workload hasn’t come without a price, though. There doesn’t appear to be many glaring holes in Stacy’s game but his knack for getting nicked up here and there has kept him from having even more opportunities. Against Chicago, he rushed for 87 yards in the first half and looked like he was on his way to a career high before leaving with a concussion.

Stacy has also dealt with rib, ankle and hip issues along the way, the latter of which he practiced through Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m crawling to the bathroom on Monday[s],” Stacy said. “I feel good as new. I feel better than last week, to tell you the truth.”

That throwback mentality is similar to Stacy’s running style, both of which have earned him high marks among teammates. At 5-foot-8, 224 pounds, Stacy bears a bit of resemblance to San Francisco’s Frank Gore both in size and running style.

Stacy runs low to the ground but possesses excellent patience and more often than not makes the right reads. He’s also made a habit of pushing the pile for extra yards and finding positive gains where none looked available.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Stacy is 10th in the league in yards after contact with 377. It should also be noted that Stacy doesn’t have a fumble.

“When you look at how he runs, those extra yards are what’s really helping him,” guard Rodger Saffold said. “We’re giving him the ability to get to the second level but the way that he’s pushing the piles, those yards after you’ve been hit have been adding up.”

And even though Stacy doesn’t have the home run speed that many might like, he proved last week with a 40-yard touchdown run, he is capable of going the distance when the opportunity arises.

Add all of that together and it appears the Rams have found a back who can carry the load well into the future, even for a full season.