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Alumni day: Steven Jackson declares he is greatest Rams running back of all time

As the reigning NFL offensive player of the year, Todd Gurley is the latest in a long line of outstanding Rams running backs.

Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk are the two that most often come to mind, but Steven Jackson — the franchise’s all-time rushing leader — also owns a place in the elite group.

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“Sometimes, I talk to current fans here [in Los Angeles] and there’s an argument of who’s the greatest running back to be a Ram,” Jackson said Friday at the Rams’ Thousand Oaks training facility, where he took part in an alumni weekend. “I think it’s me.

“Look at the record book. Everybody has their pick.”

From 2005 to 2012, Jackson rushed for more than 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons for the St. Louis Rams.

“I’m a history freak,” Jackson said. “And when it comes to the Rams’ organization, if there’s one thing we do, we pick running backs well.”

Jackson, 34, looks fit enough to still be playing.

The former Oregon State standout, the 24th player selected in the 2004 draft, was a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his 12-year career with the Rams, Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.

In nine seasons with the Rams, Jackson rushed for 10,138 yards and 56 touchdowns, and caught 407 passes for 3,324 yards and eight touchdowns.

His best season was 2006, when he rushed for 1,528 yards and 13 touchdowns, and caught 90 passes for 806 yards and three touchdowns.

But the Rams never posted a winning record during Jackson’s years with the team. They made the playoffs only once, in his rookie season in 2004 when they finished 8-8.

“Everyone doesn’t get the wins,” he said. “Some guy’s going to be a lucky this year, be a rookie to win the Super Bowl.

“And you have somebody like myself that plays 12 years and doesn’t get a chance.”

Jackson said it was not bittersweet to see the Rams flourishing under coach Sean McVay, who last season led them to an 11-5 record and their first playoff appearance since Jackson’s rookie season.

“When I played, it was more of, you get a lead and you always expected a team to come back,” he said, adding, “It hurts to say that out loud, but that’s how it was in those days.

“Now to watch the current Rams play, it’s, more so, you see the confidence. And every week last year I saw the team grow.”

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The Rams led the NFL in scoring in 2017 as Gurley scored a league-best 19 touchdowns. Jackson said McVay’s play-calling was reminiscent of former Rams coach Mike Martz.

Asked how he would fit in McVay’s offense, Jackson said, “I think I’d probably still be running for 1,000 yards a season.”

Jackson said he enjoyed watching the development of former teammates such as offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker.

“To see the careers they’ve made for themselves has been impressive,” he said.

In February, Jackson climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa as part of former Rams teammate Chris Long’s annual “Waterboys” charity.

Now he is looking forward to seeing the Rams continue to develop under McVay, especially as Gurley continues the Rams’ running backs legacy.

“We’re all different and all are special in different ways,” he said. “It’s a group that we go for pound for pound against any other team in the NFL when it comes to the history of the running back position.”

A year of progress

Hall of fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater attended last year’s alumni weekend when McVay was preparing for his first season.

“The difference between what he did a year ago and what he did today — you could tell that this offense is in full bloom and that everybody in that [team meeting] room really has a handle on what he’s teaching,” Slater said, adding, “All I could see is a blossoming, and I think a bludgeoning, kind of a thunderous kind of a powerhouse that they’re developing here.

“And... we could be watching some special football here for the next decade, if not longer. The guy’s 32 years old. He’s just getting started in this business.”

Coaching clinic

Todd Lyght was impressed by what he observed from defensive backs during workouts and meetings.

Lyght, the fifth pick in the 1991 draft, played 10 of his 12 NFL seasons for the Rams. He coaches defensive backs at Notre Dame, his alma mater.

Lyght, a 1999 Pro Bowl pick, complimented cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, and said cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters were “probably going to end up being the best tandem in the league” for years to come.

“I’ve always been a fan of Talib’s,” Lyght said. “I think he’s a phenomenal player, a great competitor. He takes a lot of pride in his tackling, which a lot of cornerbacks don’t do all the time.

“And I think Peters is an outstanding player, a great playmaker.”

Weighing in on Wade

Hall of Fame defensive lineman Jack Youngblood, the 20th pick in the 1971 draft, was in his sixth NFL season when Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips began his NFL coaching career in 1976.

Youngblood said Phillips reminds him of Ray Malavasi, the Rams defensive coordinator from 1973 to 1977 and head coach from 1978 to 1982.

“Very intelligent about what the offense is going to do to you, and therefore, what am I going to do to offset that,” Youngblood said. “He puts his talent in position to be able to play and to be able to excel.”

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