ST. LOUIS — Steven Jackson has a Rams-record seven straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, the longest current streak in the NFL. To push it to eight, he'll be counting on a remade line opening some holes.
There will be three new starters for Sunday's opener at Detroit, including a fifth-round draft pick who did not start in the preseason. Guard Rokevious Watkins, all-SEC last year at South Carolina, played catch up at the start of training camp after arriving overweight.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can before Sunday," said the 334-pound Watkins, who has shed about 25 pounds. "If my number's called, I'll be ready."
The Rams also have newcomers at center in Scott Wells, a Pro Bowler last year with Green Bay, and at right tackle with free agent pickup Barry Richardson.
The first snap against the Lions' seasoned front featuring Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch will be their first as a unit in a game. It's not the best recipe for success for a franchise coming off a two-win season facing a team coming off a 10-6 year.
"It brings a bunch of challenges," tackle Rodger Saffold said Thursday. "But the good thing about challenge is sometimes you're able to rise up and do what you have to do. I'm excited to see what's going to happen."
Jackson holds the franchise career rushing record, and entering his ninth season is 907 yards shy of becoming the 27th player in league history to reach 10,000 yards. He's gotten 1,000 yards every season except his rookie year in 2004 when he backed up Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.
Long ago, Jackson stopped griping about the Rams' yearly failures. He takes the high road heading into the opener, hoping a ball control strategy can help hold down a Detroit offense that averaged nearly 30 points.
"At this point we have our starting five and we're going to continue to see what five meshes the best and what works," Jackson said. "Right now, we're pretty confident with what we're going into the game with."
Quarterback Sam Bradford appears confident, too, that he won't be under siege.
"They're going to push the pocket," Bradford said. "It just means that I've got to be aware When we do have time and we're able to take shots down field, we've got to take advantage of them and hit them."
The biggest unknown for the line is how players will react to stunts and blitzes. They've had to develop teamwork on the practice field, and have three tight ends who could help with protection.
"A lot of times you see some exotic things from the defense and you almost have to know kind of what your guard and center is thinking," Saffold said. "But really right now, as long as we're communicating we'll be fine.
"That's what we're going to have to do."
Right tackle appeared up for grabs most of camp between Richardson, who started 33 games the last four years at Kansas City, and Jason Smith, the No. 2 pick of the 2009 draft who's been dogged by concussions. Richardson started throughout the preseason, and won the job when Smith was traded to the Jets last week for backup tackle Wayne Hunter.
Wells was one of the top free agent additions for the new regime of coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, but missed the first two games while rehabbing from right knee surgery.
Saffold and right guard Harvey Dahl are holdovers, but with asterisks. Saffold started the first 25 games of his career at left tackle but missed the last six games of 2011 with a shoulder injury.
Dahl started every game last year but at two spots, the first 10 at right guard and the last six at right tackle.
By comparison, the Lions (No. 13) have 10 of 11 starters back on offense and the line has a combined 494 career regular-season starts, giving them the NFL's most seasoned unit this year.
Detroit was one of the league's stingiest defenses, too, tied for third in takeaways, third in opponents' third-down efficiency and best in the NFL on 3rd- or 4th-and-1.
"They're one of the best," Jackson said. "They play with an attitude, they play with an edge, and we've got to do a good job of protecting Sam."