Jackson practices for first time after 27-day holdout

Friday, August 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS -- Steven Jackson signed a six-year, $44 million contract, ended a 27-day holdout, and was on the field for practice with the St. Louis Rams on Thursday.

And all was forgiven.

Coach Scott Linehan, who conducted a month of practices without the centerpiece of the offense, joked that he gave Jackson "a big hug" and then asked for a loan. Offensive tackle Orlando Pace, no stranger to holdouts, said he was happy "big time, big time" to see the bruising runner. Defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said simply, "Things are pretty good at Rams Park right now."

The 235-pound running back had been entering the final season of a five-year, $7 million deal he signed as a first-round pick in 2004. Linehan said he understood the business end of the game after Jackson got a deal that includes more than $20 million in bonuses and puts him third on the salary scale on the team, trailing only quarterback Marc Bulger and Pace, and fifth among NFL running backs.

"It was great to see him," Linehan said. "There's no up side to being adversarial in these kind of deals. You've just got to stay positive and you've got to focus on who's here, and have trust and faith in the people that are working on getting everything done."

Jackson, 25, said both sides compromised during negotiations that stayed underground and generally cordial. Gregarious by nature, he kept silent publicly while getting frequent text-message updates from teammates and Linehan, and then flew from his home in Las Vegas to St. Louis on Wednesday when the deal was imminent.

After doing individual drills and a bit of team work in his opening practice, he said he hoped to retire as a Ram. He also pledged to be ready for full duty in the Sept. 7 opener at Philadelphia.

"No one gets 100 percent of what they would like to happen, but me and my agent are happy," Jackson said. "Of course, there were heated debates on the phone, but no one attacked publicly. I still feel the same way about this organization as I did last year the last game of the season."

It won't be all roses. Jackson expects a rude welcome from Rams fans after he criticized them last year for a lack of commitment. The Rams failed to sell out three games and the Edward Jones Dome had a healthy dose of Packers and Steelers fans for late-season games.

"You definitely expect mixed reviews," Jackson said. "When you're talking about this kind of money a lot of people can't really understand why would you turn your back on a contract? Business is business."

It'll be at least a week before he gets his first preseason carry. Linehan said Jackson would be in uniform Saturday night against the Ravens, but would not play while he conditions his body for football.

The team plans to get Jackson plenty of extra work and will even use the warm-up time before the preseason game to help him get up to speed. Jackson spent 20 minutes on a treadmill after practice, catching up on his cardio work.

"Really, you can't simulate the game," Linehan said. "It's more the conditioning factor of starting and stopping, and getting in the huddle and doing all that. We have plans to do some extra things with him, even when we're not practicing."

Jackson, coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard season despite missing four games with injuries, justified his holdout while still under contract because of the lack of guaranteed money in the NFL. He based his decision to stay away instead of reporting to camp and continuing talks on the risks of playing his position.

The Rams cut off negotiations on the first day of training camp until Jackson showed up, after the running back turned down a deal the team said would have put him in the upper echelon of running backs.

"Taking a lot of hits, you never know if you can jeopardize it," he said. "The only safe bet to not signing a new deal right away is staying out of harm's way."

Backing up that point, Jackson missed four games with a groin injury and part of a fifth with a bulging disc last season. The Rams lost all five games while going 3-13.

Former teammate Marshall Faulk criticized Jackson's durability and second-guessed whether he deserved a big contract in a recent radio interview.

Jackson declined an opportunity to fire back.

"All things are forgiven," he said. "Some people don't agree and some people do agree and that's just what it boils down to during a holdout. Before I made the decision to hold out I took that into consideration."

Jackson has averaged 115.7 yards from scrimmage since his rookie year, fourth best in the NFL. He led the NFL with 2,334 yards rushing and receiving in 2006 and his 90 receptions in 2006 is sixth-best by a running back in league history.

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