It seems as if the Chiefs are always asking defensive end Tyson Jackson to learn something new.
When Jackson was the Chiefs’ first-round pick in 2009, he had to make the conversion from an end in a 4-3 defense at LSU to a left end in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL.
It took a few frustrating years, but just when Jackson felt comfortable in his role as a run stopper on first and second downs, the Chiefs decided late last season to keep him in the games on passing downs. Jackson responded with three sacks in a four-game span — which was one more sack than he had produced in his first three-and-a-half seasons.
And now, here comes another new defensive system, and though it is still a 3-4 front, the terminology and philosophies are new. Again.
“It’s football, and it’s never the same,” Jackson said. “With new coaches coming in, they’re bringing their own system in. There are a lot of moving parts, and there’s a learning curve you have to go through and learn what they’re trying to teach you.
“We’re doing a whole lot of moving. We’ll be flip-flopping from right side to left side. It’s our job to understand what they’re asking of us, what our gap responsibilities are on each play. You would be amazed how just walking through plays will help you get things down pat, where you should be on each play … on what blitz you need to pick what hole …”
Jackson gave a stunning demonstration on how well he’s picking up the new defense during a six-play sequence in last Thursday’s offseason practice session.
Jackson, a 6-4, 296-pounder, leaped high and swatted two passes in four plays by quarterback Alex Smith. Two plays later, he crashed through the line and would have been credited with a sack if full contact were allowed in practice.
“I’m very impressed with Tyson,” said new head coach Andy Reid. “I’ve been impressed since we’ve been together here. Not many guys are going to outwork him on the field. Pass rush was not his forte, but he’s working like crazy to get better. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for. He’s a big man who can move a little bit.”
While Jackson finally found a comfort zone last season, he’s learning some new tricks from veteran defensive line coach Tommy Brasher, who has developed several top pass rushers in his coaching career, including Hugh Douglas at Philadelphia and Michael Sinclair at Seattle.
“Finishing off last season the way I did will be real helpful for me coming into this season,” Jackson said, “and starting off the season the same way by being disruptive on third down. Working with coach Brasher, he’s been around the game for such a long time, he’s got a lot of experience and is sharing things and insights that will pay off this year.
“When it comes to the fundamentals, things stay the same, but coaches have their own twists, and it’s our job to pick up on that and learn from that and make ourselves better as players.”
Jackson, who did not live up to the status of being the No. 3 overall pick in 2009 by the previous regime, would not be with the Chiefs this year had he not agreed to a restructuring of his contact that reduced his salary from $14.72 million to a guaranteed $4.2 million. The new deal allows him to earn back a significant portion in incentives, but the contract was not extended.
He chose to take the pay cut as opposed to testing the free-agent waters. For now.
“I love the Kansas City Chiefs,” Jackson said. “I love this organization. I feel like we have a special team here, and this should be a good year for us to play together and win a lot of ballgames.”
If he thrives under the tutelage of Brasher and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who is installing an aggressive, get-after-the-quarterback mentality, Jackson could be a hot commodity as an unrestricted free agent next year.
“I think I‘m a real good fit in the 3-4 system here and have done a good job trying to get better and better, and I see myself having a real good year this year,” Jackson said. “It’s important for me to come out and play hard.”
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey has been impressed in what he’s seen in Jackson so far, both on the field and in the locker room.
“I like his person,” Dorsey said. “I like how guys gravitate to him. He’s looked upon as one of the leaders of this team. I can’t wait to see him get in pads and actually play in this defense. I think this defense will help him. I see a guy who has a chance to do some things in this defense.”