Jackson Rushing to Get Out

James Jackson (pictured, in 2001) knows that each carry he gets could help him get a new opportunity - with another team. Frank Derry looks at what has transpired to turn Jackson from the Browns #1 back in 2001 to a player looking for a ticket out of town...

James Jackson insists he has nothing against the Cleveland Browns or their fans. But if he had his druthers, he'd much rather be playing ‘agin ‘em than ‘fer ‘em.

In fact, James Jackson is rushing to get out of Cleveland in more ways than one. He knows he can escape on his own at the end of the 2004 season, but he hopes his departure date is much sooner than that.

Thus, every opportunity he gets to carry the ball in the preseason, he is putting a little extra effort into it in hopes that his performance will convince another NFL, possibly the Miami Dolphins, that he would look very good in their backfield.

As mentioned, the fourth-year Browns running back has nothing anything against the city of Cleveland. Rather, it's simply something he has against the bench … namely, his backside.

Jackson is tired of playing second, third or fourth fiddle in a running back scenario in which he, just a few years ago, occupied the lead role.

"I went from starting as a rookie, to third or fourth team (in 2002)," said Jackson. Actually, he was worse off than that. Asked if for all intents and purposes he went from starter to coach Butch Davis's doghouse, Jackson smiled and said, "Exactly."

Which is tough to do, especially when you put up the rookie numbers that Jackson did and have a history with the head coach that dates back to their being together at the University of Miami.

In 11 games (10 starts) in 2001, the Browns' third-round draft choice gained a team-high 554 yards on 195 carries. Those stats would have been even more impressive had he not missed five games due to injury, including the final three games with a bad ankle.

Jackson's injury problems coincided with the team's slide over the final six weeks of the season. After winning three out of four to begin the year and six of their first 10, the Browns won only one game over the final six weeks.

Even though Jackson's yard-per-carry average was a very mediocre 2.8, it appeared he was well on his way to having a prominent role in the future of the Browns.

But then a not-so-funny thing happened on his way to stardom. Jackson decided to stay in Florida during the off-season following the '01 season and work out on his own.

It's not that he didn't work hard. He ran for countless hours on the beaches and he worked out in the weight room as hard or harder than he would have had he had participated in the Browns' off-season program.

His reason for staying in Florida was that he wanted to be near his loved ones.

But that didn't sit well with Davis, whose team's late-season slide had left a sour taste in the first-year head coach's mouth.

He wanted his players, all of them, to show they were dedicated to turning things around by participating in the "voluntary" off-season workout program at the team's facility in Berea. NFL rules prohibit teams from demanding everyone attend, but the vast majority of the Browns players did-so on their "own."

 Jackson did not. And, while to his day Davis will never admit Jackson was in his doghouse, his actions speak louder than any words. The fact one of his own from his Hurricane days had the audacity to stay in Florida while virtually everyone else was in town seemed to be a blow to Davis's ego.

Doghouse or not, Jackson went from 195 carries in '01 to just 12 carries in 2002.

On top of that, the Browns used their first-round draft choice in 2002 to grab William Green.

Green wasn't ready to be a starter when the 2002 season got underway, but rather than Jackson getting the opportunity to prove himself on the field, Davis turned to Jamel White, who had been Jackson's understudy in '01.

When White needed a breather, it was Green who got the call. Green eventually took over the No. 1 spot. White went to being No. 2 and Jackson remained on the bench. 

Then, in 2003, the team used its fourth-round draft choice to pick Lee Suggs, who had dropped from a possible first-round pick all the way to the fourth round due to a shoulder injury.

Jackson knew right then and there that he had no future in Cleveland, although he did get 102 carries a year ago. That was mainly because Suggs missed the majority of the year recovering from his shoulder injury and White, who got involved in a messy contract dispute following the '02 season, replaced (or joined) Jackson in Davis's doghouse.

Now, with Green back from his off-the-field problems and Suggs healthy to begin the year, Jackson is the third person in a backfield that only has room for two people.

Thus, he wants out and, from all indications, the Browns would be willing to accommodate him. They'd love to get a mid-round draft pick in return and, since the Dolphins still are looking for someone to replace recently-retired Ricky Williams, it would seem to be a good fit.

Jackson knows the best way for him to get his ticket out of town is to prove himself on the field. Otherwise, "It's out of my hands," he said. "I signed a contract and there's nothing I can do about that right now."

The good thing for Jackson is that this is the last year of his contract. He'll be an unrestricted free agent come this of-season. If indeed he is still with Cleveland, will he look elsewhere to sign?

"It's time for some new money," Jackson said with a grin. 

In other words, if the Browns don't trade him now and get something in return, he won't hesitate to sign elsewhere at his earliest opportunity.

Jackson says the one thing he doesn't want is for anyone to hand him a starting job. "I want to earn it," he said.

And the other thing he wants is "for people to tell me the truth. I'm being honest with you. I want people to be honest with me. I don't want to play politics. If I suck, tell me I suck. If I'm not good enough to play, then I'm not good enough to play."

But if he indeed is good enough, and Jackson obviously is convinced that he is, he wants to play for five more years in the NFL after this year.

At that point, no matter how well he is doing on the field, he said he will hang up his shoulder pads for good.

True to his nature, he will let any team that wants to trade for him or sign him as a free agent know up front that is all the longer he will be playing. It is important, he says, that they know that ahead of time.

"If I said anything else, I'd be lying to myself and that organization," he said.

James Jackson appears to finally be out of Butch Davis's doghouse. Now, the sooner he gets out of Cleveland's "dawg house" the happier he will be.

       


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