St. Louis Rams position analysis: Running backs

Last year: Steven Jackson’s final season as a Ram was a heavy one. He carried the ball 257 times for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns before departing to Atlanta. His dominance limited the experience of rookie running backs Darryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. Combined, Rams running backs totaled 410 carries, 1,714 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers are all toward the bottom when compared with the rest of the NFL’s 31 teams.

Coach: Ben Sirmans is brand new to the Rams, but comes with 16 seasons of collegiate coaching experience. He spent his last five seasons as the running backs coach at Boston College, where he oversaw the school’s all-time leading rusher, Montel Harris.

Three questions:

1. Is Richardson everydown material?

The seventh-round pick in 2012 — at No. 252, he was the second-to-last player picked in the draft — turned out to be a pleasant surprise with 98 carries for 475 yards, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. He showed his skills in short bursts, but will he be able to sustain solid numbers now that he will be used more? He says his goal is to be the starter. Not having Jackson in the backfield for the first time since 2003 should mean he gets that chance.

2. How will Austin be used?

Rams fans had reason to get excited when Tavon Austin, the team’s No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, was seen in the backfield during organized team activities earlier this offseason. Austin is pure speed; the guy runs a 4.3 second 40-yard-dash. But he’s probably not going to be running between the tackles, either; he’s 5-foot-9, 174 pounds. Everyone will be waiting to see how the team uses its X-factor in the ground game.

3. Is Pead who we thought he was?

The 50th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft has yet to prove he’s worthy. Pead’s touches were limited due to Jackson’s dominance, sure. But Richardson hopped ahead of him, too. He ended his rookie season with just 10 carries for 54 yards. He will sit the first game of 2013 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy — not exactly the best start.

Quote: “We’re not just going to have a one-man rotation thing where we give one guy the job, and let the others watch. They all have different skills, so we plan on using them differently.” — Rams coach Jeff Fisher on his backfield

What others are saying: “At running back, it won’t be easy to replace Jackson, though if Pead can emerge as the player the Rams hoped for when they drafted him in the second round last year, this will be an adequate backfield. Richardson runs with some juice, showing good quickness through the hole.” — Andy Benoit, Football Outsiders

Bottom line: The Rams enter the season with one of the most unknown backfields in the entire NFL. Hopefully, for the Rams, unknown won’t be synonymous with worst.

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