Darby Ready for More

Posted Sep 30, 2010

As Kenneth Darby crossed the goal line for his first NFL touchdown last week against the Redskins, the play immediately shot to the top of the list of his most memorable moments in the league.

Of course, Darby didn’t have many other instances to compare it, too.

“That’s my No. 1 so far in the NFL,” Darby said. “I really haven’t had too many highlights in the NFL as a running back. I have a lot in college but this is my No. 1 in the NFL. I have got a lot more to come, though.”

Darby’s next crack at creating more NFL memories could come as soon as Sunday as the Rams remain uncertain about the status of starting running back Steven Jackson.

Jackson suffered a mild groin strain in that game against Washington – a strain is actually a slight tear of the hamstring – and did not play in the second half. Jackson did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but he and the Rams remain hopeful that he’ll be able to play on Sunday against Seattle.

That decision will likely be a game time decision with Jackson, coach Steve Spagnuolo and head athletic trainer Reggie Scott making the final choice together.

“There are a lot of things involved here,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s the fourth game of the season. It’s a running back with a lower extremity injury. We want him out there, I know he wants to be out there but you certainly don’t want to have a setback. You want to get him healthy. That’s what you want to do. Those are all things we’ll be faced with when it gets down to Sunday morning.”
Clearly, the ultra-competitive Jackson wants to play in a game that could have a lot of early season implications in the NFC West Division. But he also doesn’t want to do something that could jeopardize his long term health and, in turn, the long term possibilities for the team.

“That’s definitely what we’re going to come down to this weekend is one, seeing if I can get through the game, and weighing…this is a huge game for us,” Jackson said. “This is Seattle at home where we’re only one game back in our division. Although it’s early in the season, this game has a lot that… come out victorious, that does a lot for us in our season.  That definitely will be weighed. We’ve been smart about it and I think we’re going to continue to be smart about it. If I so happen to sit out Sunday, I’ve just got to make sure that I’m helping the young guys, make sure they know what they’re doing and be an extra set of eyes for them.”

If indeed Jackson can’t go, the onus will likely fall on Darby to make his second career NFL start.

Not that anyone expects him to be Jackson but for his part, Darby was decisive and quick with his reads last week against Washington and was able to help the Rams keep a balanced offensive attack.

Although Darby has started but one contest at the NFL level, his experience in big game atmospheres at Alabama should help him handle the pressure if he draws the starting assignment.

“At Alabama, we sat 101,000 fans so I was kind of used to it,” Darby said. “I wasn’t really worried about the pressure or the noise of the crowd or anything like that. I was just concerned about my job at hand, executing my assignment like I have been doing all week in practice. I was ready for the challenge and ready for the opportunity.”

Darby has long taken the approach that he should contribute on special teams first but always prepare as though he was going to be the starter at running back.

The Rams brought Darby in from Atlanta’s practice squad on Oct. 14, 2008. That year, Darby played in 10 games with 32 carries for 140 yards and 19 catches for 183 yards.

After battling for his position in the 2009 preseason, Darby again found his way on to the roster and served as Jackson’s primary backup for most of the season.

Darby played in the first 14 games of the season and was used sparingly before he got his first start on Dec. 27 against Arizona. In that game, he ran for 40 yards on 11 carries with a catch for 6 yards.

All told, Darby’s 2009 season came out fine in terms of numbers as he finished with 5.6 yards per carry on 27 attempts.

Still, the Rams again went searching for help to back up Jackson just as they did this week when they signed Chauncey Washington from the Jets practice squad.

But none of that fazes Darby.

“I can’t worry about things I can’t control,” Darby said. “The only thing I can worry about is what I have control over and that’s my attitude each day I go out there on that field and what I have got to do to get better.”

So far this week, Darby hasn’t changed how he approaches anything. He keeps his focus on making sure he’s ready to help on special teams and though his repetitions with the first team offense are way up, he says that’s really the only change to his work week.

“My week is the same to me,” Darby said. “Nothing has changed. Before all this happened, I always took each week, each day of practice as if I was going to start even though I knew it may not happen. But I always took that mindset and carried it out to the field. I just try to get better, get better at my assignments, get better at my techniques and be ready for whenever they call my number.”

The Rams will almost certainly work backups Keith Toston and recent addition Chauncey Washington into the mix as well as the game goes on. But Darby would be the one with his name called first, a prospect that excites the reserved runner.

“It would be overwhelming,” Darby said. “I would be excited of course but at the same time, I won’t let all of that get to my head because I have got a job to do and I am going to try to go out there and do my best at my job.”

That job will likely still include special teams duties even if he’s the starter, a role Darby takes seriously.

In fact, it was a play on special teams that Darby made last week that stood out to Spagnuolo above anything he did offensively.

“That’s him,” Spagnuolo said. “He never wants to be out. It doesn’t matter what role. I vividly remember last week in the game, he was carrying the football now because Steven was hurt and he goes down and splits a double team on the kickoff return and gives everything he’s got. It didn’t matter what he was doing. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

When Darby scored that aforementioned touchdown against Washington, he didn’t have much of a celebration other than to let out a primal scream.

Perhaps it was a lack of experience that kept Darby from having something more rehearsed. Either way, he vows to have something much better should it happen again.

“Next time I get in the end zone, I got something coming,” Darby said. “I already know what I am going to do. It’s got to do with a shark, let’s just say that.”