According to Tony Softli, former Rams personnel man now working for 101Sports.com, the Rams have all but signed former Atlanta Falcon Jerious Norwood. He's taken a physical, and even an official team photo, and is at Rams Camp today presumably working through details of his contract.
Updated: Adam Schefter reports the deal is done.
However, Softli follows that news with this pronouncement:
Confirmed with league sources; with Norwood in the house and close to signing a deal, it is not likely the Rams still have interest in Ronnie Brown.
Most observers think the Rams should have two new backup running backs in hand, with Brown the leading candidate to act as a true "fill-in" for Jackson. (Norwood is seen as your prototypical "change of pace" back, more of an option in the receiving game, and we wouldn't disagree.) However, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the team goes into the season with Jackson, Norwood, and whoever emerges from the ranks of the young and unproven.
A quick look at Josh McDaniels' running back utilization and Jackson's career should show us why.
The Workhorse vs the Rotation
Josh McDaniels has never run an offense that featured a primary workhorse back. Then again, he's never had one.
Denver's underwhelming group of running backs last year combined for a mere 318 carries last year (subtracting runs by Tebow, and gadget plays involving wide receivers). That averages out to slightly less than 20 designed handoffs per game. Additionally, the running backs were targeted another 101 times, catching 77 of those for a total of 395 offensive touches for the RB position.
Meanwhile, Steven Jackson remains one of the very few workhorse running backs in the league. His average runs per game over the last 5 seasons has barely fluctuated: 21.6, 19.8, 21.1, 21.6, and 20.6 last year.
Figure in another 50-60 looks in the passing game (he was targeted 59 times last season), and you aren't leaving very much on the plate for one backup, let alone two.
And his renewed dedication to offseason workouts has made him reverse the normal durability curve, finishing the season with 16 games played and appearing in 31 of 32 contests over the last two seasons. If anything, early impressions of him in camp are of a more tightly muscled, more dangerous back than last year.
Of course, the argument is "what if Jackson gets hurt/slows down/sucks?" And it's a valid concern. But I'm not sure the Rams would consider a heavy investment in a player like Ronnie Brown (who commands 200+ touches in a normal season himself), only to mothball him in McDaniels' pass-heavy offense. Especially if they're now committed to giving 5-10 touches per game to Norwood.
Do the Rams have a backup plan, if not a backup back?
Plan A: There might be a solution on the roster already.
I'm expecting Norwood to sign with STL, but keep an eye on Chauncey Washington. Much more powerful than Norwood.
Adam Caplan isn't the only one with an eye on former Jet Chauncey Washington, who signed to the Rams' practice squad early in the 2010 season. He raised eyebrows at this weekend's practice as well.
Chauncey Washington with a great run and wicked juke.
Whether it's Washington, a revitalized Keith Toston, or even long-shot UDFA Eddie Wide, the Rams could try to fill from within.
Plan B: Wait for the inevitable roster cuts and strike.
The Eagles, Patriots and Saints are overstuffed with potential backup running back talent. According to Evan Silva, all NFL teams will be required to cut down from 90 players on the roster to 75 on August 30, and then down to 53 by the end of preseason.
Those first cuts could see someone useful shake loose, and Devaney has been known to pounce in these situations, picking up talent for cheap. The most recent example? Mark Clayton, who became expendable in Baltimore after the trade for TJ Houshmandzadeh.
Plan C: Cadillac Williams?
Williams' name is beginning to float around the Rams as well, which makes a bit more sense if all you want is a guy you can plug in on third downs and throw blocks in front of Bradford, or make a few plays in the passing game. His days as a runner are long gone, and he won't command a lot of touches, but the former Buc has picked up enough experience in the league to be able to handle the tougher duties associated with the 'third down back' role.