RENTON, Wash. – Maybe defensive end Branden Jackson has already appeared to show a lot to the Seahawks this preseason.
Jackson has one of the only four sacks Seattle has gotten in the first three preseason games, leads the team with three quarterback hits and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with two.
But Thursday, in the final preseason game for the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field against the Oakland Raiders, Jackson is going to have to make Seattle coaches notice him all over again to assure a spot on the team’s 53-man roster heading into the regular season.
“He’s had a very good camp,” coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday of Jackson, a fourth-year player out of Texas Tech. “He’s done a nice job. He’s competing.”
But then Carroll dropped the proverbial “but.”
“He’ll play a lot this weekend and make sure he shows it,” Carroll said.
These days, the only players playing “a lot” on the final weekend of the preseason are those who still need to prove something to the team to hang around.
And, then, comes hang-on time.
Immediately following Thursday night’s game, the Seahawks – as with every other NFL team – will begin the arduous task of cutting their roster from the training camp maximum of 90 to the regular-season maximum of 53. Cuts must be made by Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT.
Up to 10 players can then re-sign to the team’s practice squad once they clear waivers, and others will be told to keep their phone on just in case the team needs them down the road.
But for many of the 37 waived, Thursday could mark the last time they put on not only a Seahawks uniform, but any NFL uniform.
It’s a day-and-a-half period as stressful in the NFL world as any other for both the coaches and general managers who have to make the decisions and the players, who may suddenly be left wondering what is next in their life.
But Jackson insisted on Tuesday he’s not worrying about it.
Truth be told, though, he said that’s in contrast to how he used to deal with the final days of the preseason when he says he used to try to figure out what might happen.
What happened each time was exactly what Jackson didn’t want – he has been let go at the cutdown date each of the last three seasons, by Oakland in both 2016 and 2017 and by the Seahawks a year ago.
But those experiences, he said, have proved to him that life goes on.
“I’ve been cut before,” Jackson said. “So it’s like, ‘Nothing can hurt me now.’ ”
Each time, in fact, he bounced back quickly, signing to Oakland’s practice squad in 2016 and finishing the season on the Raiders’ active roster, and then in 2017 signing with Seattle’s practice squad and finishing the season on the active roster, and then doing the same again last season (he’s played in 21 games for Seattle the past two seasons).
What he learned through all that, he said, is to just enjoy the process.
“It’s always hard to kind of picture where you are at (in the team’s plans) and I’ve learned to stop doing that and just play football and play free and it kind of plays out better,” he said.
The proof, to him, is what happened Saturday against the Chargers in Carson when he had one sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits in 27 snaps, as good of a game statistically as any Seahawk.
“I think that was the freest that I have played in the preseason,” Jackson said. “Just worry-free. And I felt the results were better.”
But nothing is guaranteed. Jackson has been listed second on Seattle’s depth chart at left defensive end – or more accurately, the strongside or five-technique defensive end spot – behind Quinton Jefferson.
But he’s also listed ahead of two players the Seahawks are not going to cut: recent high draft picks Rasheem Green (third round in 2018) and L.J. Collier (first round in 2019).
Because Collier may not be ready Week 1 – and has yet to play in a game – the team may have to keep Jackson around as veteran insurance.
But as Jackson knows well, anything can happen.
And if the weekend comes and he’s told he’s not on the 53, he vows he’ll again battle his way off the ropes, just like one of his idols, Muhammad Ali, often did.
Jackson was born 11 years after Ali’s last fight in 1981 but says he has been a longtime fan of boxing, and Ali in particular. He enjoys talking with Seattle defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. about the fights Norton’s father had with Ali in the ’70s.
He’s such a fan of Ali’s that he had cleats made with a painted image of Ali as well as references to his famous “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” saying.
Jackson wears the cleats often in practice and also has in two preseason games.
“I feel like there is not a great person to kind of take the field with than a true champion, a fighter,” Jackson said. “That’s what I think of myself. Every day, every snap is a fight and you’ve got to go in there, and once the first person gets punched in the mouth, all your plans go out of the way. And then it’s who is going to counterpunch, who is going to keep punching, and who is going to get punch-drunk. It’s just something that when I’m tired and I’m down there on a knee before I get in my stance, I see him down there and I’m like, ‘Let’s float like a butterfly, let’s sting like a bee.’ ”
And hope that at the end of the weekend, he gets to live to fight another day as a Seahawk.
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