Reassessing Steven Jackson's role

Projecting Steven Jackson's role within the St. Louis Rams' offense became a little trickier once the team added two experienced backs in Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood.

The Rams had fewer viable options at the position in past seasons, forcing Jackson to carry a heavier load. Not that Jackson was complaining. He wanted to be on the field, and fans sometimes wanted him carrying the ball even more. But when the Rams did give Jackson a rest, and especially when they lost him to injury, backups such as Kenneth Darby, Keith Toston and Chris Ogbonnaya did not necessarily command respect from opposing defenses.

Jackson will still get the vast majority of touches among Rams running backs. Williams and Norwood have had injury problems in the past, but they should be fresher when called upon this season because Jackson will remain a focal point on offense. Williams started nine games in Tampa Bay last season, but he was best known as the Bucs' third-down back as LeGarrette Blount emerged. The speedier Norwood could factor on kickoff returns. He has also lined up as a slot receiver in years' past.

I suspect the Rams added Williams and Norwood primarily because they weren't comfortable with their other backups stepping into the lineup as starters if an injury sidelined Jackson for stretches. Williams has been an every-down back, so he could carry the load on early downs in a pinch. Norwood projects as a change-of-pace backup with special-teams value.

Jackson has averaged better than 1,300 yards rushing and 48 receptions over the past two seasons. He set a career high with 90 receptions in 2006. He wants a bigger role in the receiving game and thinks new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can help make that happen.

"That’s definitely part of my game that I've been missing the last couple of seasons," Jackson told reporters early in camp, before the team added Williams and Norwood. "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."

Since 2001, when McDaniels began his NFL coaching career with New England, his teams have produced 1,000-yard rushers only twice. Corey Dillon (1,635 yards) and Antowain Smith (1,157) both reached that mark with New England. Also during that time, Kevin Faulk owns the highest single-season receptions total for a running back with 58. He had 507 yards rushing that season. Faulk is the only running back with more than 37 receptions in a season for teams featuring McDaniels as a coach.

Of course, McDaniels has never worked with a back quite like Jackson.

This will be a storyline to follow all season for the Rams. Questions abound. Is Jackson declining and would he benefit from fewer carries? Will McDaniels funnel more of the offense through quarterback Sam Bradford? Will Williams or Norwood siphon off touches from Jackson?