ST. LOUIS (AP) — If the St. Louis Rams draft a running back in the first round, they swear it won’t be because Steven Jackson is slowing down.
Last season, the bruising Jackson led the NFL in combined touches, and three of the past five years he’s topped 300 carries. In 2009, he played the final third of the season with a herniated disk that required surgery.
There’s been little relief, given Jackson had 330 carries last year while backups Kenneth Darby and Keith Toston totaled 54. Plus, Jackson’s 3.8-yard average last season was the lowest of his career.
He is working on a franchise-record six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, but he will be only 28 in Week 1.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney maintained Tuesday that when it’s time to make the 14th overall pick running back will be no more important than a lot of other positions. Alabama’s Mark Ingram has come up in some mock drafts.
“In our minds he (Jackson) is still playing at an extremely high level,” Devaney said. “So we don’t feel like ‘Gosh, we’d better start looking down the road.’ This kid is as good as there is, so we don’t feel any pressure to start lining somebody up to take Steven Jackson’s place.”
Rams Park was player free Tuesday, one day after a federal judge in Minnesota granted the players’ request for an injunction to lift the lockout. The league immediately announced it would appeal, putting the situation in limbo.
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis was spotted in the parking lot but apparently did not enter the building.
“I think all the players understand kind of what’s going on,” Spagnuolo said. “We’ll just see how it plays out. It’ll work itself out.”
Wide receiver is likely at the top of the Rams’ wish list heading into the first round, with Alabama’s Julio Jones a popular pick in mock drafts.
St. Louis is set at quarterback with Sam Bradford, the NFL offensive rookie of the year after being the No. 1 overall pick last year. Devaney said zero time has been spent analyzing the relative merits of quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert of Missouri and Cam Newton of Auburn.
“Your time is so valuable and we know we’re not taking a quarterback in the first round,” Devaney said. “So it would be unfair for me to even try to compare those guys to Bradford.”
The pressure is off the Rams to hit paydirt with the 14th choice. Devaney said the Rams were ready to pick, but since they have more time they’d work on uncovering gems in the late rounds. St. Louis has seven picks, their original selections in the first five rounds with two choices in the seventh round.
The Rams swapped their sixth-rounder to the Baltimore Ravens last year, getting a seventh-rounder in return, for wide receiver Mark Clayton. Clayton is expected to re-sign with the Rams.
Devaney wouldn’t be surprised if the Rams trade up, or down. Just like the rest of the teams.
“We’ve been in touch with teams above us and behind us and it’s kind of an elephant dance right now,” Devaney said. “It’s this little ritual everybody does. ‘Yeah, we’re interested in trading up.’
“Yeah, whatever. And you never get a phone call back from them, but you go through this thing and everybody does kind of the same thing at this time.”
Copyright Associated Press