- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

Read any story written about Jon Jansen during his first five seasons with the Washington Redskins and you’ll find someone quoted about the offensive tackle’s toughness.

With good reason. Jansen didn’t miss a game, let a alone a practice from 1999 to 2003. That was 82 consecutive games and hundreds of practices worth of continually slamming into defenders. So no one questioned whether Jansen would fully recover from the torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2004 season before it began.

But another side of Jansen emerged this season, thanks to his thumbs. He broke the left one in practice the Monday before the season opener against Chicago and then broke the right one six days later against the Bears.

Redskins director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer, an NFL trainer for 34 years, had never treated a player with two broken thumbs. Tyer and his staff fashioned casts that allowed Jansen to move his other eight fingers, but he didn’t have both hands fully free until late November. Getting dressed and tying his shoes were chores. And the casts came off only for games. Jansen still wore them in practice.

The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Jansen could no longer simply rely on the brute force that had allowed him to overpower defensive ends during his first five seasons. The Michigan product had to outsmart them, too.

“Not being able to use your thumbs was a challenge,” Jansen said. “But having played in an offense that I didn’t like for two years [under pass-happy coach Steve Spurrier] and then having to watch all last season, I was determined not to miss any time. I had been waiting too long to play in an offense like this again.”

And with Jansen at right tackle every day, the Redskins returned to the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season. Jansen not only pass-blocked effectively against the likes of Michael Strahan and Jevon Kearse, he helped pave the way for a majority of the runs on which Clinton Portis set a Redskins record with 1,516 rushing yards. Jansen also had led the way for the second- and third-place seasons in team history, those recorded by Stephen Davis in 1999 and 2001.

“I can’t imagine doing what Jon had to do this year,” left tackle Chris Samuels said. “It’s hard enough to block defensive ends when you can use your hands. I don’t know how he did it.”

Left-handed quarterback Mark Brunell appreciated his blind side protector’s amazing ability to keep him upright despite the casts.

“Let’s face it, those guys hold if they can get away with it and it’s hard to hold a defensive end when you can’t grab onto him,” Brunell said.

Backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey, Jansen’s close friend, said his buddy never complained about the thumbs. In fact, Jansen said that in a strange way, his broken thumbs were a blessing.

“Having the casts helped me focus,” Jansen said as he prepared for tomorrow’s divisional-round game with Seattle sacks leader Bryce Fisher, whom he stoned in the Redskins’ 20-17 Week 4 victory over the Seahawks. “I had to be perfect with my technique or I was in trouble.”

Unlike Samuels, Jansen wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl. He’s not even an alternate. But don’t tell that to offensive line coach Joe Bugel.

“This has been Jon’s best season,” Bugel said. “I think he had a Pro Bowl year, especially considering what he had to fight through.

“After talking to Jon about the thumbs that first week, I stopped worrying. When Jon says something, he backs it up. I know how much pain he went through with the thumbs. He was favoring one hand, then the other. But Jon’s a rare bird. He’s very intelligent. That’s why he’ll be around for 20 years.”

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