Rookie follows his own path
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, May. 14 2007
Keith Jackson Sr. was an All-America tight end at the University of Oklahoma
and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
A first-round draft pick by Philadelphia in 1988, he caught 441 passes, made
six Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl (with Green Bay) during a nine-year NFL
All of which is a tough act to follow for Keith Jackson Jr., a Rams rookie
"It has been tough at times," said Jackson, a seventh-round pick from Arkansas.
"But I always played defense, so I had my own footsteps I had to make because I
played a totally different position."
Besides, having a father who was an NFL star did have its perks. Like those
family "vacations" to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. And that trip to the Super Bowl.
"That was the really, really big deal that inspired me in life — going to the
Super Bowl," Jackson said.
He was a few weeks shy of his 12th birthday when his father, and the rest of
the Packers, defeated New England in Super Bowl XXXI. His father spent only the
1995 and '96 seasons with Green Bay, but Jackson has fond memories of attending
games at Lambeau Field and roaming the locker room afterward amid the likes of
Brett Favre and "Uncle Reg."
That's what Jackson called Reggie White, the late, great Hall of Fame defensive
"Uncle Reg, he always used to tell me that defensive line was my position,"
Jackson said. "I was real close to Reggie. He always helped me out, before he
passed away. ... He helped me with the club move — his favorite move — and
things like that."
At 6-0, 305, Jackson is a couple of inches shorter and about 50 pounds lighter
than his father was in his prime. So although he played a little tight end at
McClellan High in Little Rock, Ark., Jackson knew early on that his football
calling would be in the trenches, not catching passes like his father.
While Jackson was playing for Arkansas, it wasn't unusual for his father —
who's a color commentator for Razorbacks radio — to go down to the locker room
at halftime with a tip or quick critique. Even so, Jackson wasn't deluged over
the years with advice from his father.
"He just kind of lets me grow up to be my own man, just making sure I don't
make the wrong mistakes," Jackson said.
Physically, Jackson has shown he's able to stand on his own two feet with his
"We wrestle a little bit every now and then," Jackson said. "He always tries to
test his strength, but he said he won't wrestle me anymore because I kind of
hurt him the last time. I slammed him on his back in the living room about two
or three months ago."
Three months from now, the Rams hope Jackson is slamming opposing running backs
to the ground in the preseason. As the 248th pick overall — only seven players
were drafted later — nothing is guaranteed for Jackson.
He got a reminder of this when he reported Friday to Rams Park for rookie
minicamp and discovered he's sharing a locker stall with Clifton Ryan. Ryan, a
fifth-round pick from Michigan State, also plays defensive tackle.
It's as if the team is reminding Jackson — and Ryan — that they are competing
against each other for a roster spot.
"It is going to be pretty tough," Jackson said. "But you've got to go out there
businesslike, and at the end of the day if you leave it all on the field, it's
up to the coaches to decide who they're going to give that spot to."
One of the reasons Jackson lasted until the seventh round is his lack of
height. But he was a productive college player who caught coach Scott Linehan's
eye at Arkansas' pro day.
"We went to the workout basically to look at (defensive end) Jamaal Anderson,"
Linehan said. "We just found a very competitive player (in Jackson). He had an
excellent workout that day. He showed a lot of heart.
"He's like any of the other big guys — they've got to keep working on their
conditioning, so they can compete every down. But he really has a great motor.
He understands the nose guard position, and he has natural leverage."
Coaches are always on defensive linemen to stay low and use leverage to fend
off blockers. At 6-0, Jackson already is low.
"I keep my motor running because I've always got to do something extra than the
person that's 6-3," Jackson said. "I've got to make plays. You don't make
plays, you can't eat."
Not in the NFL.