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On the radar: Steven Jackson's viability

7/15/2010

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

The St. Louis Rams had trouble winning when Steven Jackson was at his linebacker-trampling best last season. They had no chance without him, making Jackson's health status following back surgery a vitally important issue.

Jackson underwent surgery to alleviate symptoms associated with a bulging disk. The team expected Jackson to be ready for training camp, and we've heard nothing different since the Rams broke for the summer.

It's difficult to project how back injuries will heal and whether, in this case, Jackson will resume his role as one of the league's most dominant workhorse backs. We do know the Rams haven't acquired a proven backup at the position, and we know the Rams' running back will become even more important as the team seeks to take away pressure from rookie quarterback Sam Bradford.

Jackson has averaged more carries per game -- 20.2 -- since 2005 than any other player with more than 32 starts during that five-year span. He turns 27 next week and has broken down physically in each of the past three seasons. He missed four games in 2007 and four games in 2008. He missed only one last season, testament to his toughness more than to good health. Jackson played hurt for weeks until finally needing to sit out in Week 16. He returned for the final game of the season but wasn't right.

The good news for Jackson and the Rams, according to ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell, is that he has the right physical build to make a successful return.

Jackson would be more apt to aggravate the disk injury through non-football activities such as traveling or heavy squat lifting than through getting tackled during games or practices, she thought. Bell pointed to Matt Hasselbeck's 2008 disk problem as one example. Hasselbeck's back flared up during a plane flight, not while playing. For Jackson, twisting as he fights for extra yardage could be more problematic than even taking a helmet hit to the back.