A healthy Jackson is one reason why this offense might develop into one reminiscent of the 1999 edition, which scored a then team-record 526 points as the Greatest Show on Turf. He has to revitalize a running game that ranked 25th in the NFL last year and take the heat off fourth-year quarterback Marc Bulger, who had a 93.7 passer rating, and one of the league's best groups of receivers-- Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald.
The offense should benefit from having left tackle Orlando Pace show up without a holdout for the first time in two years. And the Rams will still go to Faulk, who'll be used as a third-down back and a receiver out of the backfield. " Marshall can still run the ball," says Bruce. "If they go to sleep on [number] 28, that'll be their mistake."
The defense can't be overlooked either. After watching the unit improve late in the year then crumble in a playoff loss to the Falcons, Martz added free-agent linebackers Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne to shore things up.
Jackson believes St. Louis could be a Super Bowl contender, and it's hard to argue. The Rams are playing in the weak NFC West and have the easiest schedule in the league. Moreover, as was evident during camp, they have their old swagger back. "Our confidence is unbelievable right now," says Jackson. "We feel as if we can play with anybody." --C.B.
Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are the wide receivers who grab most of the headlines in St. Louis, but they may soon be sharing credit with Kevin Curtis, a 2003 third-round draft choice out of Utah State. The 5'11" 186-pounder caught 17 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown in his last three games of '04, two of them playoffs. Curtis, the third wideout in the Rams' aerial circus, also had at least one reception of 30 or more yards in each of his last four games.
An Opposing Scout's View: Enemy Lines
They're in shambles at the top--all the infighting between the front office and the coach--and I think that stuff's going to trickle down onto the field.... I'm not a big fan of their defensive coordinator, Larry Marmie. Coach Mike Martz needs a strong defensive mind, and I don't think he really has that in Marmie.... On the defensive line Tony Hargrove might surprise some people.... Leonard Little has put on more weight and has lost speed, but he's still a decent pass rusher.... Chris Claiborne has always looked soft and sloppy at middle linebacker.... Marc Bulger is a system quarterback. He does fine in that offense. Steven Jackson is a beast. He has power, size, can run downhill and is pretty shifty.... Isaac Bruce is a poor man's Jerry Rice. He never really went downhill; he just leveled off and will probably ride into the sunset as that type of player.... I see Orlando Pace as a guy who gets by more on athleticism than by taking it to the next level and dominating. He's not mean out there, like a Jonathan Ogden. This offensive line isn't going to hold up. Other than Pace, who are these guys? But I give credit to Martz: In that scheme he finds a way to win, no matter who's blocking.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics
2004 RECORD: 8--8