Seattle Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson knows he can’t hit the reset button and start his NFL career anew this season.
Besides, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end doesn’t want to. Seattle’s first-round draft pick in 2008 understands he did not live up to expectations last season – his and others – with his rookie performance, finishing with two sacks in 16 games.
Tasked with learning two positions, playing both defensive end and defensive tackle, and playing most of the season with an injured right foot, a reflective Jackson said after the final day of Seattle’s veterans minicamp this week that he’s not making any excuses.
“There are things that I could have done a lot better,” Jackson said. “That’s (the injury) just something that I had to deal with that affected whether or not I was 100 percent. But that was no excuse for my performance.”
He views his first season as a learning experience, knowing things can only get better.
“For me, I’m done with last year,” Jackson said. “I watched the film – I still watch it and I go over it – but last year was last year. The disappointment I felt is gone. That was year one. I take what happened, good and bad, into preparation for year two and move forward, and that’s kind of my plan for things.”
Further, Jackson said he’s understands the critics, but he’s not listening to them, either.
“I really don’t care what people have to say because that’s the society we live in,” Jackson said. “We’re seeing it with President Obama right now. Some people think he’s doing a good job, and some people don’t think he’s doing a good job. But it takes time. So I’m confident, as long as everybody here is confident about my improvement, and those are the only people I care about – my coaches and the other personnel. Other than that, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Jackson takes solace in knowing that most defensive ends, who later have productive careers, struggled in their first few years in the league. He points to fellow defensive end Aaron Kampman of Green Bay and former New York Giants star Michael Strahan as prime examples.
Kampman totaled 2.5 sacks in his first two regular seasons before elevating his game to a Pro Bowl level, earning trips to Honolulu in 2007 and 2008.
Strahan finished with one sack and played in only nine games in his first season, but eventually played 14 more, finishing his tenure with a Super Bowl ring and the league’s career sack leader.
Of course, both players had tempered expectations because neither Kampman (fifth round) or Strahan (second) was a first-round pick.
But Jackson can look closer to home.
Defensive end Patrick Kerney notched five sacks in his first two seasons in the NFL before developing into one of the better pass rushers in the league.
“There are guys who are excellent pass rushers but people forget the growing pains, and that’s something I’m comfortable with,” Jackson said. “It’s not something I’m waiting for. … I attack every day with the same purpose, it’s just when it clicks and it happens, then it happens. You can’t have success without some struggle early on.”
Jackson said his foot is healed and he’s healthy now. He’s also benefited in the offseason from focusing exclusively on improving at defensive end, and not having to go through unnecessary draft preparations.
This week, Jackson did not spend time at defensive tackle. He seemed to be playing more instinctively, getting up field much faster and making more decisive decisions. Jackson said the attention to detail demanded by his new coaches, including assistant head coach/defensive line coach Dan Quinn, and an elimination of any grey area in technique or scheme has increased his ability to play fast.
Jackson compared Quinn’s instructive approach to the game to the style used by Jethro Franklin, his former defensive line coach at USC.
“It’s been good,” Jackson said. “He’s definitely a teacher, and as a student of the game, that’s what you want. You want somebody to feed you knowledge and information and continue to challenge you mentally to go out there, work on your technique and be efficient. Be dead-on, and be exacting in the way that you do things.
“It’s a blessing to have him. I experienced a similar coaching style in college with Jethro. And as a football player that’s what you want, a coach to be continually dedicated to getting you better. You know I’m not saying it wasn’t like that before, but that’s Coach Quinn’s style. He’s a teacher.”
Seattle coach Jim Mora needs Jackson and the rest of the defensive line to improve if he expects to revamp one of the NFL’s worst defenses last season.
The Seahawks lack of pass rush out of its defensive front was one of the main reasons for the team’s drop off defensively. Seattle finished a respectable 10th in the league in sacks with 35. However, 13 of those came in two games against San Francisco, who had given up a league-high 55 sacks in 2008.
Jackson, along with Darryl Tapp and a surgically-repaired Kerney, need to get consistent pressure off the edge as Seattle switches to more of a cover-2 scheme. They will rely more on the defensive line to get consistent pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.
The additions of defensive tackles Colin Cole and Cory Redding, along with a healthy Kerney, should help. Still, an improved Jackson could give Seattle the boost it needs in its pass rush.
“It’s night and day,” Jackson said about heading into his second season. “I feel like I’m playing football now instead of searching and trying to get my feet underneath me. I feel good.”
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