From 1999 through 2012, the St. Louis Rams experienced the height of success and the nadir of failure. Those years provided a Super Bowl victory (2000) and another NFC championship (2002); but also included a three-year stretch in which the team won a combined six games (they bottomed out at 1-15 in 2009).
Through all the years, the good and the bad, running back offered consistent production and success.
Marshall Faulk started the run (pun very much intended) upon arriving in St. Louis prior to the 1999 season. After helping lead The Greatest Show on Turf to its first Super Bowl championship, Faulk led the team in rushing for the next five years.
After serving as Faulk’s understudy for a season, Steven Jackson was the next to serve as the Rams bell cow and became the organization’s leading rusher along the way. Jackson never let the team’s struggles impact his performance. From 2005 through 2012, Jackson put together eight straight seasons of 1,000 yards rushing, becoming only the sixth player in NFL history to do so. In 2012 he also became the 27th player in NFL history to rush for more than 10,000 yards.
Last year, Zac Stacy became the first player not named Faulk or Jackson to lead the Rams in rushing in 14 years. Stacy, a rookie out of Vanderbilt, didn’t even get his first start until Week 5. But from then on, he rushed for 969 yards and seven touchdowns.
More importantly, he proved to be a ground-and-pound back that is so vital to any Jeff Fisher-coached team.
At the start of last year, Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer were forced to mask the lack of a running game by employing an air-raid offense. At best, it was a mediocre attack. At worst, it was a disaster (Exhibit A: Week 4 Thursday Night loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers).
Daryl Richardson couldn’t produce in the role of feature back and found himself a forgotten man over the second half of the season. He was cut last week before signing with the New York Jets.
Isaiah Pead, a seemingly perennial resident of Fisher’s doghouse, was never given an extended look. The former second-round pick (50th overall) in the 2012 NFL Draft was billed as Jackson’s heir-apparent. But in two years with the club, he has yet to make an impact. His days on the team seem to be numbered.
Heading into 2014, however, it appears the Rams have the personnel they seek for the backfield. Stacy enters the year entrenched as the starter and is expected to improve on his rookie season.
The team’s third-round draft pick, Tre Mason, is expected to get meaningful snaps as Stacy’s backup. Many local fans may recall Mason, the former Auburn Tiger, for his record-setting performance against the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship Game when he rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
The speedy Mason should be an excellent change-of-pace back for the bruising Stacy. Together, the two will be the focus point of an offense that spent the early part of 2013 searching for an identity.
Fisher’s philosophy fits well with recent Rams history. Faulk and Jackson (not to mention other rushing greats like Jerome Bettis and Eric Dickerson) established a precedent of success for the position. Stacy, Mason and co. will have a prime opportunity to continue that lineage.