EARTH CITY, Mo. -- If anyone needed further proof that the Rams will take on a different look offensively this year, look no further than the man tasked with replacing all-time leading rusher Steven Jackson as the team’s starting running back.
The news came Monday from Rams coach Jeff Fisher that Daryl Richardson would be the team’s opening day starter against Arizona on Sept. 8. That bit of information should come as no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to how the so-called competition has played out over the past four weeks or so.
“Well, from a starting standpoint, yeah, I think Daryl would probably take the first snap against Arizona,” Fisher said.
While Fisher made it official Monday afternoon, all signs have pointed to the job being Richardson’s since early in camp. That was never more apparent than last weekend against Green Bay when Richardson only played four snaps while Isaiah Pead got most of the work with the first team.
It might seem strange that Richardson not playing was a strong sign that he’d clinched the job, but as Fisher said when asked, the Rams are clearly comfortable with what he brings to the table at this point.
“We wanted to give Isaiah an opportunity to run behind the starting line and against a good defense,” Fisher said after the Green Bay game. “We have a good feel for what Daryl can do, obviously.”
What Richardson can do gives the Rams a different look than what they have done in the running game with Jackson as the focal point. Jackson’s bruising style certainly worked as he set nearly every major rushing record in franchise history, but Richardson’s presence adds a home run threat that aligns closely with the team’s offensive shift.
Jackson was the picture of consistency -- rushing for more than 1,000 yards eight consecutive seasons, but he didn’t consistently present the possibility of breaking a long run for a touchdown. That’s part of the reason Richardson had so much success early in 2012 as a speedy change-of-pace back.
Richardson rushed for 475 yards on 98 carries to go with 24 catches for 163 yards as a rookie.
There has been plenty of speculation about the direction of the offense in 2013. The Rams refuse to tip their hand on the extent of the new look, but one common theme has been a shift toward speed.
Richardson’s 4.8 yards per carry was tied for sixth best among running backs and he ripped off three of the team’s four longest carries from scrimmage with gains of 53, 44 and 32 yards.
As a team, the Rams had 46 carries that went for 10 yards or more and Richardson was responsible for 11 of those, which comes out to a run of 10 yards or more 11 percent of the time.
Upon Jackson’s departure to Atlanta in March, the Rams made it clear they’d hoped for a full-blown competition to emerge for the starting job. Richardson continued to get the carries with the first-team offense but split many of the repetitions with Pead.
Richardson’s knack for putting his foot in the ground, making one cut and taking off didn’t go anywhere in the offseason and served him well in the preseason opener against Cleveland when he ran four times for 24 yards.
Perhaps the speed with which Richardson has burst on to the scene might come as a surprise to outside observers but not to him.
“You have got to have confidence and believe in yourself,” Richardson said. “If you believe you can achieve anything.”
Even if that something is replacing a franchise legend in a new-look offense.
Monday practice notes
Rookie receiver Tavon Austin did not practice Monday. He was excused to tend to a personal matter.
Center Scott Wells also did not practice but not because of injury. He was given a “veteran’s day” off.
Projected starting safety Darian Stewart did not practice Monday because of a hamstring injury. He came out of the Green Bay game early because of the injury and did not return. Fisher said Stewart is having more tests. Soft tissue injuries have been a constant problem for Stewart in his NFL career. If those issues continue, it could open the door for someone else to take his place.
Fellow projected starting safety T.J. McDonald also did not practice after suffering what amounts to a bruised knee in the Packers game.
Fisher said Sunday the Rams hoped to have right tackle Rodger Saffold back this week and though there’s plenty of time left in the week, Monday was not that day.
Receiver Austin Pettis does not have a catch in two preseason games and hasn’t been targeted much in camp, either. But he was heavily involved Monday, coming up with a number of impressive catches, including a tough, contested catch in the corner of the end zone during team drills.