ST. LOUIS — Here Isaiah Pead stands, yards behind Steven Jackson as the ninth-year veteran cradles a pass from reserve quarterback Tom Brandstater during drills at Rams Park, the rookie resembling the lightning to Jackson’s thunder.
“Of course, we’re two different types of running backs,” says Pead, all of 5-feet-10, 197 pounds. “But you can always learn.”
Here Pead stands, cutting in the backfield late Tuesday afternoon, searching for a sliver of space between defenders whereas Jackson would bull through them.
“Every man is himself,” says Pead, chosen 50th overall to complement the 6-2, 240-pound Jackson, the St. Louis Rams’ all-time leading rusher. “Everybody has their own routine.”
Pead is trying to develop his routine while drawing lessons from Jackson’s example. The 22-year-old Cincinnati product is one of the Rams’ most intriguing newcomers: He’s quick, he’s explosive, he can pivot in a pinch, and he can bounce from tackles like a greased pinball.
The best part? He’s only beginning to learn his limits.
He lacks the bulk of Jackson, the Rams’ rushing king with 9,093 career yards. But Pead has shown shades of Darren Sproles and Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson and LeSean McCoy. He’s shifty and creative, a stylist and a potential career-saver for the largest battering Ram of all.
The promising part? He’s only beginning to impress.
“Isaiah has looked really impressive this camp,” says Jackson, 29. “Isaiah is someone that is very shifty. He has a good understanding of the game of football. From my understanding, he played in a spread offense (in college), so he definitely brings a dynamic to us so we can use him and spread out the defense in ways so we can have a matchup problem, actually in our favor though.”
Perhaps. But how soon will Pead find his niche within coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense?
The answer will determine the Senior Bowl MVP’s comfort within the system, and ultimately, his impact in the coming months. Pead envisions himself buckling up behind quarterback Sam Bradford no matter the scenario to help a rushing attack that ranked 23rd in the NFL last fall with an average of 104.2 yards per game. He also could become a short-range pass option to keep defenses backpedaling.
Why stop there? Pead is open to returning kicks. With a grin, he said lining up as a cornerback sounded appealing to him as well. Place him on the field, anywhere, please, and he is confident he will produce.
“Whatever it is — this whole rookie season, I want to be able to answer whenever the call’s needed,” Pead says. “I don’t want to hold the team back. I don’t want the coach hesitating or Sam hesitating to throw me in, because I don’t know my plays or I drop too many balls. I don’t want any hitches.”
There were few hitches during Pead’s college career. He ended his four-year tenure at Cincinnati with 3,288 rushing yards, a total that ranks third all-time in program history. He found the end zone 27 times on the ground. He was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and the Liberty Bowl MVP last season. He ran a 4.47-second 40-yard time at the NFL combine. He drew praise for his instinctive style, before the Rams drafted him along with wide receiver Brian Quick (No. 33) and cornerback Janoris Jenkins (No. 39) in a three-pick second round.
Pead has the background. Now the Rams want the dynamo from Columbus, Ohio, to show the NFL his burst.
“Oh man, he’s explosive,” Quick says of Pead. “He bounces off tackles. He has nice little moves. It’s amazing every time you see him run the ball, especially for a rookie. He’s unbelievable when he runs the ball. He can make some amazing things happen.”
This is what amazing looks like: Rookie wide receiver Chris Givens has seen Pead produce eye-catching runs in recent sessions. On occasion, a defender has popped the running back during those plays, a reminder that these practices are no leisure stroll. Yet Givens witnessed the focused talent, who broke Archie Griffin’s all-time rushing record at Eastmoor (Oh.) Academy, bounce back unfazed.
One thought raced through Givens’ mind: That’s somebody I can play with.
“You can tell he has a natural feel for the game when he’s running the ball,” says Givens, who was taken 96th overall. “He’s swift with his cuts and elusive in small quarters, and that makes him hard to defend.”
It’s a lesson the Rams want NFC West opponents to learn soon enough. Jackson, rugged and resilient as ever, remains the unquestioned king of St. Louis’ backfield.
But Pead could become a flashy complement in time.
“I kind of have a mellow mind and just observe and watch and learn — learn from (Jackson’s) mistakes, learn from his good points,” Pead says. “And I also go out and do what I am capable of doing.”