The large, powerful man with the football found a bit of space and suddenly burst into the open field on a 50-yard run as smaller men gave chase.
Later, the big man caught a pass, nimbly jumped over his blocker who had dived to the ground and quickly accelerated for a 17-yard gain as the smaller men wisely dived at his legs rather risk a head-on collision.
Those were the highlights from Steven Jackson's informal introduction to Falcons fans during the season opener Sunday at New Orleans. Now those at the Georgia Dome on Sunday will get to see for themselves what the Falcons' opponent, the Rams, already know about Jackson.
Chances are some of those fans were surprised to see that Jackson is a powerful, fast, skilled running back. That's what comes with nine years toiling in relative obscurity with the Rams, who are not a marquee NFL franchise and never made the playoffs after Jackson's rookie season.
"I think when you are not on national television a lot, some things I have done over the years can get overlooked easily," Jackson said. "But it's not often at (30 years old) you get to restart and reintroduce yourself. That's exciting for me that I get to go out there and put my resume back out there and do it again." No running back in the game can match Jackson's numbers.
Jackson's 10,212 yards rushing and 3,369 receiving yards are the most among active running backs. It's not as if Jackson's production is fading with age, either: He had 1,042 rushing yards in 2012 (on just 257 carries) for his eight consecutive season of at least 1,000 yards, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Yet Jackson did it for mediocre to bad teams in St. Louis, so he's not a household name. The NFL Network aired a segment before the season ranking the top six backs other than Vikings star Adrian Peterson, and Jackson didn't make the cut. (Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice made the list.) With the Falcons, Jackson is not the focal point for an offense that also includes Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White. But he's also not facing the prospect of a losing season after he endured seven of them in St. Louis.
"Over the years you can only have so much individual success to pacify you," Jackson said. "I was on the outside and now being on the inside and seeing what a good team looks like, I saw that I was missing that. I am happy now to be getting that opportunity." Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said players respected what Jackson did in St. Louis (they voted him to the Pro Bowl teams in 2006, '09 and '10). Ryan said he gained an appreciation for Jackson while studying opposing defenses who had played the Rams, but he still was pleasantly surprised once he saw Jackson's skills up close.
"I don't want to say I didn't appreciate him or have respect for him before, but he's better than I thought he was going to be," Ryan said. "That's exciting. I think he is going to do good things for us." The Rams decided to move on without Jackson after last season. Their top running backs now are second-year players Daryl Richardson (Jackson's backup in 2012) and Isaiah Pead.
Jackson said he walked away from the Rams "with my head high and proud of my accomplishments there." He said the team's ownership gave him a respectful farewell and that a potentially rancorous split was handled with class.
Still, Jackson said he was disappointed to leave the Rams because his philosophy is that "once you start something you finish it." He said he decided to opt out of his contract and become a free agent once it became clear he wasn't in the team's plans.
"It was seeing the writing on the wall," Jackson said. "The NFL is not nice to veteran running backs. The Atlanta Falcons presented a great opportunity for me." During training camp, Jackson said he uses exhibition games to ramp up to the season and that fans wouldn't see his true impact until the games count. Jackson delivered with a strong debut in which he had 77 yards rushing on 11 carries and five catches for 45 yards.
Jackson said he heard from some of his old Rams teammates during the week and that he expects there to be "no holds barred" when they clash at the Georgia Dome.
"It won't be no brother-in-law situation going on Sunday," Jackson said, chuckling.
But Jackson said it's important for him to not get caught up in the motion of facing his old team and focus on making plays for his new one.
"I want to make sure I am dialed in, going out there executing the game plan and playing at a high level," he said. "More importantly, I want to go out there and get a win before the Atlanta crowd. This is my true first impression to give them, and you only get that chance one time."
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