Rob Jackson stood out in his first NFL preseason game for the Washington Redskins, but it was both good and bad.
He had a sack, but he also had one nullified by his own presnap penalty. This past weekend, Jackson was not nearly as noticeable - he didn’t even register a tackle - but that doesn’t mean he regressed.
“He actually played much, much better in the second game,” defensive line coach John Palermo said. “Sometimes it is the luck of the draw whether or not you get put into position to make big plays, but he was so much better fundamentally against the run. With the pass rush, we’ve just got to keep him working on it and working on it. He’s got some talent in that area, and we just have to keep developing it.”
Added Jackson: “I got a lot better grades. I think I got my footwork right the second [game]. I started using my hands correctly. Now I’ve got to put both of them together - making plays and playing the right way.”
Jackson grew up in West Haven, Conn., and originally committed to Syracuse. But after needing to go the junior college route, Syracuse fired the coaching staff that had recruited him. Jackson decided he had warmed to the state of Kansas in his two years there, so he finished his collegiate career at Kansas State.
The Redskins made him a seventh-round selection in April, but just being a draft choice does not make Jackson a lock for a roster spot.
“I am in a fight,” Jackson said. “Every day it is in the back of my head, but at the same time you can’t let that be the focus of your attention. I think if I do my job, I have to make the team. If I do the right things and do what the coaches tell me, I should be OK.”
His path to a spot on the 53-man roster is not a clear one. It would be unusual for the team to keep more than four defensive ends, and the Redskins are deep at the position. Displacing one of the top four (Jason Taylor, Andre Carter, Demetric Evans and Erasmus James) would be tough enough, but he is in a battle with Chris Wilson to be the No. 5 defensive end on the depth chart.
It is more likely the Redskins would try to put Jackson on the practice squad so he could continue to develop, but if that were to happen he would be susceptible to being plucked away by another franchise.
“The best way to put it is he’s in the mix,” Palermo said. “This is my first time trying to figure out who is and isn’t going to be there in the end, and I’m sure that’s something [coach Jim Zorn] and [defensive coordinator Greg Blache] will have a lot of say in as well. I would say he’s definitely in the mix.”
The Redskins have had injury woes at nearly every position this training camp but maybe none more than at wide receiver.
Rookies Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly have missed much of camp with hamstring and knee injuries, respectively, after not being able to pass the conditioning test at the outset. Billy McMullen has had a nice camp but is trying to play through tendinitis in both knees. Anthony Mix is out with a broken rib, which has put his chances of earning a roster spot in jeopardy.
“He wants to be out there in the worst way, but he can’t even sneeze and feel good,” Zorn said. “We just have to wait until the pain subsides and he can tolerate being out there.”
Add starter Antwaan Randle El to the list. He missed his second straight practice Wednesday morning with what Zorn described as a sore hamstring. The coach said he might be ready to play Saturday at the New York Jets, but whether Randle El suits up will be a game-time decision.
There is some good news at the position. Thomas has practiced at full speed this week, and Zorn said he will make his preseason debut against the Jets. Thomas had one of the best catches of the day, grabbing a ball in traffic that prompted Zorn to meet him on his way back to the huddle for extra encouragement.
“What I saw today about Devin is while he was rehabbing and getting his hamstring well, he was listening because he didn’t make many mistakes,” Zorn said. “He really fought to catch the ball. I really saw him step up and want to be on the field.”