Jackson welcomes backfield competition

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson, with his powerful legs and broad shoulders, always looks ready to deliver punishment rather than absorb it.

But Jackson, who turns 31 on July 22, understands his body won't hold up forever. And he knows for as long as he plays, they'll be younger guys brought in to push him for carries.

"We're talking about Year 11 and right now, the way that the trend is going for the running backs, that's a long time," Jackson said. "So I want to make sure that not only do I stay mentally sharp, I stay physically sharp because year in and year out, you have young guys coming in and everybody wants to be the starting running back."

This year, the Falcons drafted Florida State's Devonta Freeman in the fourth round with the thought of developing him into the future, three-down back. During a glimpse at rookie minicamp, Freeman showed his elusiveness and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Regardless, Jackson's not looking over his shoulder.

"I love it. It feeds me," Jackson said of competition. "I think we learn a lot from each other. It's an honest tradeoff. Those young guys learn from, you know, my experience over the years -- what I can help them on the field, what I can convey to them that a coach possibly may not be able to understand and see it through their eyes.

"At the same time, they bring that youthfulness. They bring that edge to me to make sure that I stay sharp and that I don't get complacent. It's a fair tradeoff. And our room, as a core, I think we all get along. I think we all work together well. And it's going to be great going into the season."

Jackson didn't have to share reps with Freeman during Wednesday's organized team activities because Freeman was excused for the NFLPA rookie premiere. Jackson has been around Freeman enough to get a feel for the rookie's demeanor and ability.

"Very humble kid," Jackson said of Freeman. "In his humbleness, you can see he's eager and ready to go. Very shifty. Able to run inside and outside. Everything that you read about him in the stat sheet and his bio is true. And I've just been impressed with him these last two days that I've been with him."

The Falcons suffered miserably in the run game last season, finishing dead last at just 77.9 yards per game while averaging less than 4 yards per carry. A healthy Jackson, the addition of Freeman, and a major makeover on the offensive line could lead to a more substantial run game in 2014.