Do the Rams finally have plan in place to protect Steven Jackson?
For what appears to be the first time since splitting time with Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk the St. Louis Rams appear to have options in easing the workload on running back Steven Jackson.
One year closer to the ominous wall of turning 30 as an NFL running back. Jackson remains the feature back but he might find himself getting fewer carries - and fewer bumps and bruises - after recording 70 percent of the team's carries the past seven seasons. He turned 29 in July.
''I don't think it has anything to do with Steven's age at all,'' offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. ''What we want to do is we want to try to get a number of people involved. Obviously, Steven's the bell cow.''
The most likely candidates to spell Jackson are rookies Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. The Rams selected Pead with the third of three second-round picks and took Richardson in the seventh round.
According to all accounts coming out of Rams camp, Pead, out of Cincinnati, has been especially impressive during training camp. He ran with the first team Wednesday while Jackson rested and seems cemented in the No. 2 spot, with Richardson behind him.
Schottenheimer spent the previous six seasons as the New York Jets' offensive coordinator and typically used a two-back rotation. He had a feature back and another for a change of pace and to give the top runner a rest. First it was Thomas Jones with Leon Washington backing him up, then Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Coach Jeff Fisher had a similar tandem for much of the latter part of his time with Tennessee.
They hope to repeat those successes with the Rams. Pead said it's important for neither him nor Richardson to get caught up thinking about playing behind one the league's best backs during the past several seasons.
Both admit that they are still getting up to speed, but Jackson said he likes what he sees, especially from Pead. Richardson didn't get on the field until Monday because of a hamstring pull suffered this summer. Pead missed rookie minicamp as Cincinnati finished its school year.
From Jackson, ''Isaiah has looked very impressive in this camp,'' said Jackson, who is 10 pounds lighter this season and is down to 240 pounds. ''Isaiah is someone who is very shifty, has a good understanding of the game of football.''
The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Pead had 545 carries with the Bearcats, including 237 a senior season in which he had a career-high 1,259 yards. He finished his college career with 3,288 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Richardson, who has a nearly identical figure as Snead, led Abilene Christian with 825 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He also had 40 catches for 371 yards.
The two rookies look to see plenty of playing time when their preseason kicks off Sunday as the Rams (No. 28 in AP Pro32) open at Indianapolis. If all holds true to form their playing time should continue during the regular season.
''What that allows you to do is obviously you have backs that change the pace of the plays and run different plays,'' Schottenheimer said. ''But what you see is you see that featured bell cow back get stronger.''
Taking a look at his numbers using the handy (and amazing) tools at ProFootballFocus.com show Jackson accounted for 64 percent of all carries for the Rams last year, despite missing one game entirely and parts of others because of injuries. He had 82 percent of the touches in 2006. Aside from 2007 and 2008 when injuries kept him to just 12 games, last year was his lowest percentage of his career since becoming the main back.
His lowest total before came in 2005, Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk's final season, when he contributed 65 carries in contrast to 254 for Jackson.
The next four weeks will go a long way for the Rams to decide how much rest Snead or Richardson can give Jackson.
*Quotes attributed to Steven Jackson and Brian Schottenheimer from the AP