Change doesn’t even begin to describe just what is going on in the backfield for the St. Louis Rams this coming season. This will be the first season since 2004 that Steven Jackson isn’t lined up at the running back position for the team, and there really is no replacing a player of his stature.
That doesn’t mean the Rams are just going to fold up and give up on the running game altogether, however, as the team has a stable of backs competing for the starting gig. Word out of the team thus far suggests that second-year man Daryl Richardson is the leader to handle the bulk of the carries in the coming year. And while it may seem crazy that a seventh round draft choice from a year ago is set to spearhead the rushing attack in the upcoming season, it might not actually be all that farfetched.
With second round pick from last year Isaiah Pead set to serve a one-game suspension to open the year and rookie Zac Stacy providing the only other true competition for carries, Richardson just makes sense. Combine that with the fact that he had a solid four totes for 24 yards in the opening preseason game against the Cleveland Browns and you have a pretty solid option.
While the others competing for carries still have time to make up ground, the separation appears to be getting a bit larger between Richardson and the rest of the group. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told ESPN:
“I think Daryl played really, really well last week. I think Isaiah’s definitely got to play some catch-up. But again, we’re not just looking at one game. He’s got a whole preseason to look at. We were very pleased with the way Daryl played last week. They’ve both done really well in practice. Would I say Daryl has the lead? Sure, but there’s a ways to go, and we expect good things from Isaiah this weekend.”
Obviously the Rams expect good things from Pead being that he was selected five rounds ahead of Richardson in the 2012 NFL Draft, but draft status doesn’t determine everything. Sometimes what’s most difficult to gauge when evaluating players is that ‘it’ factor. Pead’s performance against the Browns was lackluster as he fumbled on his first carry to kill a very promising Rams opening possession. Ball security issues are what earned him a seat on the sidelines last season, and adding that to his off-field indiscretions won’t earn him any brownie points with the coaching staff.
There’s still plenty of time for someone to overtake Richardson as the lead horse before the regular season gets underway, but the odds of that happening appear less and less likely as camp wears on. His blazing speed and overall appearance lends comparisons to Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans (I mean come on, look at the photo above), and the Rams can only hope he turns out to be that type of player for them in the years ahead.