Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson called his rookie year “a humbling experience,” but the team’s 2008 first-round draft pick vows that better things lie ahead.
The former USC standout struggled to make an impact in his first go-round with pro football, recording two sacks and 29 tackles despite starting 14 games and seeing considerable playing time for a short-handed Seattle defensive front.
But while critics and fans already have begun wondering if Jackson can live up to expectations after a largely invisible initial season, it seems far too early to apply the “first-round bust” tag. Around the league, a number of high draft picks on the defensive line posted similar results, including three drafted before Jackson last April.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” the youngster said while cleaning out his locker this week after the Seahawks finished their disappointing 4-12 season.
The 23-year-old from Inglewood, Calif., knows he has much work to do, both in his own game and in convincing others of his ability. At this point, he’s far more worried about the former.
“I don’t think anything of the criticism, me being a first-round pick and all that stuff,” he said. “It’s some people’s jobs to say certain things, and it’s my job to go perform. I know what I did and I know how I progressed through the year. I’m completely confident in the progress that will be made in the future based on the foundation laid down this year. So I’m very optimistic about my career.”
Jackson was a nonfactor for a defense desperate for a pass-rush presence, particularly after veteran Patrick Kerney was lost to a shoulder injury at midseason. His two sacks came in a single game, a 33-30 overtime victory over San Francisco in Week 2 at Qwest Field, and he rarely pressured opposing quarterbacks.
The defensive line, however, is a position that requires a blend of strength and technique that doesn’t come instantly to most players. Cortez Kennedy struggled much of his rookie season. Kerney had just 2½ sacks his first year in Atlanta.
Holmgren sees potential
Outgoing head coach Mike Holmgren acknowledged that defensive linemen can be tough to judge as rookies, but he remains bullish on Jackson’s potential and feels next year’s staff needs to determine whether he is a tackle or end and let him grow at that spot.
“He played two positions in college,” Holmgren said. “I think they’ve got to evaluate which is his best position and let him play there. And like most rookies, he’s got to get stronger and bigger and figure out how this league is different than college football. You can say that about a lot of rookies.”
Jackson, 6 feet 4, 271 pounds, seems best suited at end, but did get a shot at tackle in the nickel pass package early in the year. With 30½ sacks in 52 games at USC, he’s used to being more of a playmaker than proved possible in his first year.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself from the get-go,” he said. “The big thing was, you have a mind-set that develops in college, a perception of your game and how you should play and what you should get statistically. You take that image of yourself to a new situation, and it’s kind of like the change from high school to college. It’s bigger and rougher guys, but from college to the NFL is even more of a humbling experience.”
Carlson had bigger impact
General manager Tim Ruskell has fared better with such later picks as Lofa Tatupu (second round), Leroy Hill (third), Josh Wilson (second), Brandon Mebane (third) and now John Carlson, the tight end picked in last year’s second round with the 38th overall selection.
Carlson clearly was the biggest impact rookie on this year’s team, leading Seattle with 55 catches for 627 yards and five touchdowns.
The lone tight end selected before Carlson, Dustin Keller of the New York Jets (30th in the first round), was the only rookie to come close to his production with 48 catches for 535 yards and three scores.
“I think it was a good year to build confidence in that now I know I can compete at this level,” Carlson said. “I know there are a lot of things I need to improve on, but just going through a whole season, staying healthy and banging around with guys that are big and strong and fast, it gave me a certain degree of confidence.”
The other rookie making a consistent contribution was Justin Forsett, a seventh-rounder who averaged 9.9 yards as the punt returner. Forsett played 10 games after being signed off the practice squad by Indianapolis and spending several weeks with the Colts before being cut and rejoining Seattle.
“My year was a little different because I got a piece of the business early,” Forsett said. “It was definitely a big shock, but that’s how this profession goes. They pay you a lot of money, but it’s not quite as stable as most jobs.”
Forsett, a preseason sensation at running back, would like to return to the Seahawks.
“I was pleased I was able to show different things I can do,” he said. “Hopefully I can have a bigger role next year and build off this season.”