Trying to fully appreciate just what a veteran team leader means to a particular squad is a difficult task. Their presence is one of those things that get taken for granted after a while that it will always be there regardless of time. For the St. Louis Rams, the 2013 season will be one of moving on from the loss of more than just a productive running back. Steven Jackson voiding the final year of his contract with the team and signing with the Atlanta Falcons will make everyday activities a whole lot different.
In a radio interview, quarterback Sam Bradford said:
“It’s a lot different. Not only in the huddle, in the locker room, in the meeting room. Obviously he was an extremely important part of this offense and this organization for a long time, not only for what he did on the field, but for his leadership skills off the field and in the locker room. There’s a void right now. I think it’s part of my duty going into my fourth year to step up and help fill that void.”
The leadership role is something that Bradford has been growing into over his first three seasons in the NFL, but this year will be his first experience without a seasoned veteran lining up seven yards behind him. That also means more for the running back depth chart which is filled with young players boasting very little experience.
Last year’s second round pick Isaiah Pead and seventh rounder Daryl Richardson figure to be sharing the bulk of the carries, but powerful fifth rounder from this past April Zac Stacy will also see the ball in short yardage and goal line situations. Pead and Richardson are pretty much identical in size and build at 5’10” 197lbs. so Stacy’s presence will be required when the team needs to pick up those tough yards between the tackles.
In a way, the rookie will be asked to take over the role that the Rams were hoping to have S-Jax fill in the St. Louis backfield. The team asked the vet to take a pay-cut and stick around in a reduced role for the 2013 season, but Jackson decided that he still had more to offer in his career.
Clearly Head Coach Jeff Fisher is going to miss that veteran leadership in the locker room as he said:
“This is our not our first time with the group, but yes. As I said from time and time, it would’ve been nice for me personally to have spent more than just one season on the sideline with him. I’m sure he’ll be a great addition to the Falcons.”
Aside from a leadership standpoint, what the team will miss most about Jackson was his consistency. His eight straight seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing is a phenomenal number in today’s pass-happy NFL. That type of reliability will be impossible to replace single-handedly so it’s a good thing the Rams have a stable of backs to take S-Jax’s place.
Not having number 39 seven yards deep on each offensive play will be tough to overcome, but it’s clear his biggest void will be left in the everyday activities in the locker room and in film sessions. This will thrust younger players like Bradford into a leadership position that is unfamiliar at this stage of his NFL career, but the Rams believe he is more than equipped to handle the job. It will undoubtedly be an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on as the buildup to the 2013 season progresses for this Rams team.