Falcons look to take next step behind Jackson's unique skills
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- To the naked eye, the first thing that stands out about Steven Jackson is his size. At a muscled 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, the Atlanta Falcons’ new running back possesses the size to play almost any position on the field except for offensive line and defensive tackle. His build stood out for recruiters, too, when Jackson was coming out of high school in Las Vegas. Asked if anyone ever wanted to change his position when he was younger, Jackson said, "All the time, all the time, man." "Especially through the recruiting processing coming out of high school," he said. Jackson said that was one reason why he elected not to attend college at any of the powerhouses in the East, opting for Oregon State instead. "If I were to come (to) anything east of the Mississippi, everyone wanted me to play linebacker or defensive end," he said. "So a lot of the scouts on the West Coast who had a chance to see me play personally . . . knew that I had a capability of being a running back." Falcons head coach Mike Smith said Jackson’s combination of size and speed is part of the game’s continuing evolution with bigger players. "He would’ve been one of the biggest backs playing the game 20 years ago, without a doubt," Smith said. "He’s a big, strong, strong running back. Everyone’s gotten bigger. I was talking to Randy Cross (the former NFL player who now works for an Atlanta radio station) the other day. He was 260 pounds as a center/guard when he came in. We’ve got running backs that are 250, 260 pounds now. It has changed in the last 15 years." Asked if he had any regrets, Jackson responded, "not for me." It’s no wonder. Jackson is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who has rushed for at least 1,000 yards for eight straight seasons. His signing is one of the reasons the Falcons hope they can take the next step from reaching the NFC Championship Game last season and advance to the Super Bowl this coming season. And that potential of the Falcons was a major factor in luring Jackson, who has not played in the postseason since his rookie season of 2004 (when he did not even register in the box score for St. Louis as Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk’s back,up). Jackson took the visiting team discount, so to speak, signing a three-year deal worth $12 million, with only $4 million guaranteed. He turned 30 last week and he told MMQB.com recently that leaving money on the table is not something he would have done five years ago. "Well, I mean, football’s the ultimate team sport. And after so long and after being through so many tough years, not being able to even compete in the postseason, it takes a toll on you," Jackson said of his change in attitude. "The way the game is evolving -- it’s getting to be more of a passing league -- that I know, realistically, my chances to win the Super Bowl are numbered. Atlanta presented a great opportunity for me to take advantage of, and I’ve been blessed over the years. I wanted to, not take a step back, but a step sideways to keep moving forward." Since Jackson had played for only one team in his career before now -- and a team outside the Falcons’ division at that -- he could have been walking into the locker room cold without seeing any familiar faces. But because those West Coast recruiters kept him home and he played at Oregon State, he knows the Falcons brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers who also played for the Beavers. "Actually, I knew those guys when they were playing," he said, even though James, who is older, is five years younger than Jackson. "I try to make it back once a year to a game. I was very familiar with the two. It’s pretty neat to have both of them here playing." The Falcons feel the same way about Jackson. They hope to put his pass-catching skills to work in a way that improves over Michael Turner’s limited skills in that area. Jackson is better on the ground, too. Jackson said he’s not at all worried about the danger of his production declining now that he’s hit 30, and he says it with the cocksure attitude of a player who has been one of the best at his position in the NFL the past decade. "Typically, when you see numbers like that, people are throwing out averages, scenarios that people are just comfortable in going with because it’s a trend," he said. "But like I’ve said before on record: I think each and every generation has a player that breaks the mold, and I truly believe that I’m that player for this generation."