Trying to replace a running back that was the face of the franchise for nearly a decade is a difficult chore for any NFL team, but the St. Louis Rams have found the task nearly impossible this season.
First the battle in training camp between Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead waged on into the preseason where D-Rich seemed to separate himself as the leading candidate to handle the bulk of the carries. Given Pead’s Week 1 suspension that pretty much cemented the fact that Richardson would carry the load to start the season, but that didn’t go so well. Poor outings and a general lack of effectiveness from the run game really drove St. Louis mad to the quarter pole of the season. Pead became a healthy inactive while Richardson simply continued to look more and more incapable of being the lead back.
And then something magical happened.
The emergence of Zac Stacy in the Rams’ backfield has been something like a fairytale for the team after selecting him in the fifth round this past April. The rookie out of Vanderbilt is a bowling bowl with legs at 5-foot-8 222-pounds, and his downhill running style immediately endeared him to head coach Jeff Fisher. After a handful of successful performances he is now entrenched as the starter with another improbable player taking the second-string carries in undrafted rookie Benny Cunningham.
So where all of this leads us is to wonder just what happened in the Rams’ backfield. How did things get so muddled so quickly upon the exit of Steven Jackson? With Pead fading into oblivion and pretty much irrelevant at this point and Richardson being inactive the past two weeks, what is going on with the Rams’ running game? It seems safe to call Pead a bust at this point as a second round pick a year ago, but why in the world did the team take a back of his nature in the first place?
Clearly coach Fisher had nothing to do with the decision as he has always preferred a tough workhorse back capable of grinding out the tough yards. This makes it even more curious that general manager Les Snead chose both Pead and Richardson a year ago. Were these picks products of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer trying to add a new dynamic to the team or were these just complete whiffs in Fisher and Snead’s first year together?
Answers to these questions may never come, but the Rams seem to have found the answer they needed most in Stacy. He has looked the part of Fisher’s Eddie George type of runner from the coach’s previous stint with the Tennessee Titans. Having Cunningham around to share the load will hopefully avoid the fate of George in getting worn down and beaten up so rapidly for the main attraction in Stacy.
At the end of the day, the feature back in St. Louis may not be who anyone thought it would be at this point, but the good news is at least they have a centerpiece to their ground-based offense. Hopefully this allows the Rams to enter the offseason with a clear vision for the future in the backfield unlike the convoluted mess of personnel they had to sort through to eventually find the desired answer.