ST. LOUIS (AP) -St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson ended his holdout on Wednesday while his agent continues negotiations for a new contract.
The 235-pound Jackson, a bruising runner and the centerpiece of the team's offense, is entering the final year of a five-year, $7 million deal he signed as a first-round pick in 2004. His prolonged stand perhaps reflected a realization of his value to an attack that averaged only 16 points last season while going 3-13.
The Rams cut off negotiations in late July on the first day of training camp after Jackson's agent, Eugene Parker, turned down a deal the team said would have put Jackson in the top echelon at his position.
At that time, Jay Zygmunt, the Rams' president of football operations, said there would be no further talks until the running back reported.
``This is certainly a step in the right direction,'' coach Scott Linehan said. ``We're hoping we can get this thing squared away real quickly.''
Parker, did not return a telephone message from the AP.
Jackson is scheduled for a physical Thursday morning and could make it onto the practice field that day. The Rams have a workout scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CDT.
``Steven is one of the best players in the NFL and we'd like to have him back,'' linebacker Chris Draft said earlier Wednesday before Jackson ended his holdout.
Jackson had his third consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2007 despite missing four games with injuries and the Rams had made signing him to a contract extension a priority in the offseason. Zygmunt said the team approached Jackson's agent not long after the season to discuss a new deal, but negotiations stalled when Jackson switched representatives and signed with Parker in late June.
Linehan said earlier in the week that he didn't think it would take Jackson long to learn the new offense similar to that run by the 1999 Super Bowl championship team, because he participated in offseason workouts. New offensive coordinator Al Saunders was a top assistant under Dick Vermeil on that team.
Throughout the holdout, Linehan was careful to avoid criticism of Jackson. However, after the backup running backs combined for 144 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown in a 7-6 preseason victory over the Chargers on Saturday, the coach said Jackson's absence was getting to the critical stage.
It's likely Jackson will get a rude welcome back from fans in the Rams' third preseason game against the Ravens on Saturday. The Rams failed to sell out three games last season and Jackson was often critical of the lack of support.
Antonio Pittman, signed by the Rams last season after the Saints drafted him in the fourth round and then released him in their final roster cuts, gained 67 yards on nine carries last week as the stand-in feature back.
``I would approach it the same way if he was here,'' Pittman said. ``I'm trying to compete and get better every day. Competition pushes us all and you can't look too far ahead. If you do, you might not be here.''

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