After allowing Steven Jackson to leave a year early, the St. Louis Rams had a role to fill in the backfield. Fighting for it in training camp were second-years backs Daryl Richardson and Issiah Pead, as well as seventh-round selection in April, Zac Stacy.
Despite impressing in camp, Stacy didn’t make a mark in three preseason appearances and lost out to Richardson. He only saw limited playing time in the first weeks of his pro career. However, Richardson’s poor production gave Rams head coach Jeff Fisher reason to bench him, and Stacy has taken to the role well since.
Along with improved work by the offensive line, the Rams’ run game has looked to be in better shape. The change was most notably seen in Week 8 against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football, yet it was not enough to persuade Rams OC Brian Schottenhimer to hand the ball off with seconds remaining and the game on the line in the Seahawks’ red zone. The Rams lost a heartbreaker, but much of the postgame attention fell on Stacy’s shoulders.
He registered 134 yards on 26 carries and ran with purpose, strength and determination, three attributes boasted by his predecessor Jackson. Stacy finally provided an outlet so desperately needed for the Rams, who have repeatedly suffered from a lack of production on top of injuries.
Of course, the term ‘outlet’ was often used to describe Jackson throughout his latter years in the Gateway City. While Sam Bradford was earning Rookie of the Year honors, Jackson was proving to he an unsung hero in the Rams’ offense. As Jackson missed time with injury, Bradford’s sack numbers increased, a correlation that’s hard to ignore.
The former Heisman Trophy winner was felled 105 times in his first season in the league, and as 2013 got underway, the lack of a legitimate option from the backfield led him to stray from the pocket.
With an ACL injury ending Bradford’s season, Stacy’s performance in Seattle gave the Rams’ offense new life coming at the perfect time. As Kellen Clemens struggled to come to terms with being a starting quarterback in the NFL, the team finally gained some momentum on the ground.
He soon followed that up with a second 100-plus yard day, and after grinding out some hard yardage in the Rams’ 38-8 rout of the Indianapolis Colts, Stacy is starting to provide signs that he is truly a keeper for Fisher. Last week, Anthony Blake wrote that Stacy was on course to be an NFL Rookie of the Year candidate, and while I can’t agree, it is tough to see Stacy being dethroned as the team’s no. 1 back now.
Yet, Rams fans shouldn’t be too excited just yet. It was only this time that Daryl Richardson was being unleashed and for a few weeks to end the season, he looked to be the guy to replace No. 39. So perhaps it is too early to laud credit upon the rookie’s broad shoulders, but with the Rams searching for .500 by January, his progress will no doubt be worth tracking.