Jackson has seen plenty, hopes to see more wins

BEREA, Ohio – At this time of the preseason and training camp, many young players are fighting for their NFL lives and many older players are just getting restless.

Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson proudly counts himself among the old guys.

“Anxious is a good way to say it,” Jackson admitted earlier this week. “Cranky? Maybe a little. I’m old enough to be cranky, but I’m having too much fun out here to be cranky. We’re ready for some real stuff, but I’m blessed to be here. I’m going to keep enjoying it, even the long days.”

Jackson is on the cusp of his eighth NFL season, all with the Browns. For the fourth time, he’s playing under a new head coach. He’s back to being a 3-4 inside linebacker this year. He started in 2006 as a 3-4 inside linebacker. The last two seasons, he’s played in a 4-3.

“It’s been time well spent,” Jackson said. “I’ve built a lot of great relationships.”

In 2009 and 2010, he played just six games, the result of two different pectoral tears. He came back in 2011 to a new defense and a new coach and now, in 2013, change is all around him again. The Browns have a new owner and almost an entirely new coaching staff. The draft and free agency brought three new linebackers.

On what’s really new this time around, Jackson said new Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski “relates to guys. He commands the room. He has us on the right track. He’s definitely a leader of men, and being able to stand at the front of the room and get guys to buy in is a big part of it.”

Jackson has earned the right to stand at the front of the room at times, too. On what’s again going to be one of the NFL’s youngest teams, he’s a leader in the linebackers room, in the defensive meeting room, of the team in general. The preseason started last week, and he suited up alongside some guys who were barely in high school when he made his preseason debut in 2006 in Philadelphia.

He’d started his rookie season working with the second-team defense before Chaun Thompson suffered a high-ankle sprain and Jackson moved up to the first unit. He was introduced as a starter, convinced himself he was ready for the moment, then got out on to the field and, well, got a little caught up in the moment.

“I remember on the first series Andra Davis had to line me up; I was numb out there,” Jackson said. “Here was Donovan McNabb eyeballing me, getting a read on our defense, and I just froze. I was a huge Donovan McNabb fan. It was an awesome experience.”

Jackson said he’s still a fan of the game, still fond of approaching the quarterbacks he’s been trying to beat for the previous 60 football minutes on the field and telling them he appreciates their talents. When young players approach him for advice, he isn’t afraid to share stories.

“A lot of who I am today and how I approach this game is due to Andra Davis and what I learned from him,” Jackson said. “I know his family, his kids, he’s still one of my closest friends. He’s well respected around here, even by guys that maybe don’t know him, because I keep his name out there. I try to emulate what he did, how he worked, how he treated people as much as I can. Andra, Willie McGinest, Ted Washington, Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, all those guys were coaches and mentors to me as well as being teammates. They all were willing to share what they knew.

“You remember everything, and that’s the beauty of it. These are everlasting memories. We’ve always had a tight group that’s always stuck together, no matter the win-loss record.”

Earlier this week, Browns wide receiver Greg Little tweeted a picture of what he called the “30 and up lunch table” at Browns training camp. 

There sat Jackson, talking with Jason Campbell, Quentin Groves and Shayne Graham. Jackson is only 29 for another month; Groves is 29, too. That wasn’t going to ruin Little’s joke.

The other three players at the table are first-year Browns. That cafeteria has been redone twice since Jackson was drafted in 2006.

The Romeo Crennel/Phil Savage administration had come to appreciate Jackson’s talents in the pre-draft process. He lacked ideal size for a 3-4 defense but had top instincts. The Browns entered the second round of that 2006 NFL Draft hoping to select linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Once he was gone, Savage looked at the board and saw a bunch of linebacker-needy teams that might like Jackson.

Having just signed hometown guy LeCharles Bentley to a mega contract to play center, the Browns traded Jeff Faine to New Orleans to move up and and pick Jackson.

Bentley got hurt on the first day of training camp and never played again. That’s the summer the Browns used nine different players to snap the ball in training camp and the preseason.

That’s the summer Jackson won a starting job he really hasn’t given up.

“(Thompson) got that ankle sprain, and I had heard all sorts of stories about veterans not being willing to help you or really making it rough on rookies,” Jackson said. “But not Chaun. He helped me every step of the way. I’ve never forgotten that.

“At any minute, this game can be taken from you. And one thing about the NFL is that people know you by your name, by what you’ve done for that organization. It’s about relationships. I still hope I have a lot of playing to do, but I want to teach, I want to pave the way for guys to go on and have great careers.”

Jackson said he “still gets chills” thinking about the injuries in 2009-10, trying to work his way back but not knowing if he’d ever play again. He’s made a lot of money playing football, made a lot of friendships, been through a divorce, seen teammates and coaches come and go.

“I’ve seen very few go out on their own terms,” Jackson said. “Some guys do it, but injury takes it from you. Father Time comes to get you. Circumstances in this league, man, you just never know. Going back to 2010, I couldn’t live with not suiting up one more time.

“I’m lucky. I’m on the Back Nine. I feel healthy, I feel good and I remember everything.”

Even that first preseason game. Especially all the change in between.

Last season, Jackson was good enough to be a Pro Bowl alternate. He’d like to get there, but not as much as he’d like to play in a playoff game.

“That’s what keeps me motivated every day, every year,” he said. “That’s the challenge until I get there, one playoff game, and then it will be a new challenge. You get to the point where I am and you take great pride in seeing young guys compete and have a chance.

“We know we aren’t one step away, but we think this (2013) has enough talent to take some steps. There are some young guys here who are going to play for a long time, have great careers. I don’t need them to one day say that I helped, but every day I’m trying.”