EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the long history of the Rams whether in Los Angeles or St. Louis, they have had their share of franchise running backs, the one bell cow capable of carrying the load.
One of the originals was Eric Dickerson, the back who essentially set the bar for all future Rams running backs. The past met the present and future Tuesday afternoon with Dickerson in town for Thursday night's game against division rival San Francisco.
Dickerson attended the team's practice Tuesday and spent some time with the team's youngest and, by extension, most unproven position group. With no Marshall Faulk or Steven Jackson to be found in that meeting room, Dickerson was the most knowledgeable running back in the room the moment he walked in.
After Tuesday's practice, I asked Dickerson what he thinks of a group that includes second-year backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, along with first-year backs Chase Reynolds, Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham. It's no surprise that Dickerson is waiting for one of those guys to become the most reliable option. It's strange to see a team without one but as of right now, that's the hand the Rams have dealt.
"I think one guy has to emerge," Dickerson said. "That’s how it comes, that’s how it works. One guy has to step up and be that guy and take that load on and make the big plays and make the big catch and make the difference. That’s what it’s all about. I think one of those guys will do it or they will get a guy that will do it."
Upon Jackson's departure to Atlanta in the offseason, the Rams made it clear they liked the mix they had in place, adding rookies Stacy and Cunningham to the drafted duo of Pead and Richardson in 2012. Although the offense was being built around quarterback Sam Bradford, Dickerson still sees the need for a reliable ground option.
"I still believe in the running game," Dickerson said. "The league has turned into a passing league but the running back is still a big part of a football game. If you can run the football, I think you can dominate a game still, especially if you have a quarterback and we have a quarterback here."
The idea, of course, is that adding a solid run game can keep defenses honest and allow the quarterback -- in this case Bradford -- more opportunities through the air. Dickerson said he spoke to the running backs a little bit about the importance of the Rams-Niners rivalry. He didn't necessarily remind them of the opportunity that's there waiting to be seized.
"I think they know that," Dickerson said. "When you play that position as a running back, all of them, it’s a position that you play with pride and you have a little arrogance within yourself of ‘Hey, I’m the best guy, I’m the guy that should be playing.’ They may never say it but you feel it. You have to prove it. That’s the thing, you have to go out and prove it."
As Dickerson points out, the time for waiting has passed. There almost certainly isn't a Dickerson, Faulk or Jackson in the bunch but there's clearly an opportunity for a back, any back to step up and take control of a big opportunity.