ST. JOSEPH — Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson doesnt have to look at the stats sheet or study the game tape to determine whether he had a productive game.
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
He watches how the linebackers behind him fared.
If Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher had a real good game, I know nine times out of 10, I did a good job, Jackson said of the Chiefs two inside linebackers.
Ive got to keep those guys free; Ive got to let those guys run downhill to the ball. I know Ive had a pretty good game if those guys are satisfied, and we won.
A year ago, Johnson and Belcher had career seasons, were ranked 1-2 on the team in tackles, and Johnson earned his first Pro Bowl berth. So Jackson must have been doing something right.
But Jackson, the Chiefs first-round pick in 2009, is still trying to overcome the label of draft bust ever since his rookie season when general manager Scott Pioli made him the third overall pick in the draft.
To the casual fan, it doesnt seem like Jackson even gets his uniform dirty. The only names they seem to hear are Johnson Hali Belcher Houston
The glamorous part about playing defensive line is getting sacks, said defensive line coach Anthony Pleasant. And our defense is a linebacker defense.
Were just the grunt guys up front. Our job is to keep the linebackers free to make plays. Its not a glorified position if we stop the run, we give them a chance to rush the passer.
In his three seasons, Jackson has but two sacks in 44 games, but he holds down the left side in the defense, which is critical because most teams are righthanded and direct their running game in that direction.
And according to Pro Football Focus, a website that tracks statistics, Jackson and right end Glenn Dorsey each accounted for more tackles than any 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL, including the Steelers, Ravens and Patriots, who are known for their 3-4 fronts. Jackson was credited with 38 stops on run plays, while Dorsey had 32.
Tyson is a prototype defensive end you want on the left side, said Pleasant, who spent most of his 14-year career playing end in that scheme. Hes got the bulk, he moves well, he can transition from run to pass, so hes the ideal player you want. A lot of runs go to the left side, so you want someone stout who can defend the run.
Both Jackson and Dorsey played ends in a 4-3 system at LSU, so its taken a while for them to learn the intricacies of the 3-4. Dorsey was the fifth overall pick in 2008, the final year of the Herm Edwards regime, which ran the 4-3. But the Chiefs, in Piolis first draft, still took Jackson knowing that he and Dorsey would have to convert to new positions.
It may have taken longer than anticipated for Jackson to fulfill the Chiefs hopes, but they havent given up on him.
When youre picked that high, theres so much expectation, and some of it is fair and some of it isnt, said Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston, who goes against Jackson every day in practice.
Everybody figures it out at his own pace. Some guys come into this league, and the lucky ones have it figured out I didnt. It took me at least a half a year, probably a full year, to really figure out what this league was all about, and from what I heard, Tyson had a pretty good year last year, and you can see hes building on that.
When they drafted Jackson, Chiefs officials compared him to former Dallas Cowboys end Russell Maryland, who didnt roll up a lot of sacks in the Cowboys 3-4 scheme but helped win three Super Bowl rings.
Coming from a 4-3 defense, its totally different technique-wise, Jackson said of his first three years with the Chiefs. From the outside looking in, it looks like football, but its a different type of world
Im starting to pick up things, starting to understand the defense, starting to understand my technique better. Ive still got some ways to go, but I can see myself getting there.
So do his teammates. Winston, in his first season with the Chiefs, has been impressed with Jacksons work ethic.
The thing I like is hes working hard, but its never enough, Winston said. Even when hes had a couple of good plays, its like, Aw, Ive got to make those faster, Ive got to get there faster. Hes trying to improve his game, and thats important.
When you get in year four, year five, its easy to say, Well, Ive probably learned all Im going to learn Hes realizing there are always things to be learned, always advantages to be had, and thats been impressive.
Its in Jacksons best interest as well as the Chiefs for him to have a breakout season this year. During the offseason, Jackson agreed to restructure his contract. His base pay for 2012 dropped from $8 million to $4.25 million with $4 million guaranteed. In exchange, his salary would be $14.72 million in 2013 ($3.2 million guaranteed), so its likely that will be restructured again or Jackson would be let go depending on how he performs this year.
Ive just got to lay it on the line every play, Jackson said. Come out there like its the last play of my career, so I leave it all on the table and rely on what Ive been taught over the last couple of years on how to play a 3-4 defense, and how to be strong inside, and how to control those offensive lineman
Its up to us up front to hit those offensive lineman, and keep them flat on the line of scrimmage so the guys in the back can run around and make some plays.
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