After months of trying to learn the New England offense and then dealing with a lingering hamstring injury that cost him all but three training camp practices and delayed his pro debut, second-round pick Chad Jackson finally got on the field for the Patriots in last Sunday's win over the Jets. And as he's expected to for a team that recently traded Deion Branch and previously lost David Givens to free agency, the rookie wideout out of Florida made an instant impact in New York.
Blessed with 4.32 speed, it was Jackson's receiving ability and hands that stood out on his first career catch, a 29-yarder down the left sideline in the first quarter at Giants Stadium. After beating his man off the line, Jackson had to reach back over the Jets defender to haul in Tom Brady's slightly underthrown pass. But for his first catch in his first game, everything was perfect for Jackson, who had just two receptions on the game but added his first career touchdown on a 13-yard scissors route near the end of the first half of New England's 24-17 win.
"It was a relief to just get in the game," Jackson said afterwards. "As a rookie, you never think you're going to get that much playing time but, at the same time, getting the catch and scoring a touchdown, that's a great feeling for me."
It's a feeling Patriots fans and coaches alike hope Jackson has even more often in the coming weeks as he continues to get acclimated with the offense, build a relationship with Brady and get up to full speed. With New England still undermanned at receiver, there will be plenty of catches up for grabs as the season rolls on.
"We're going to need more of that from him," said Brady. "I think we're going to need more of it from all the receivers. We have to find ways to execute better in the passing game."
|WR Chad Jackson #17, the New England Patriots 2nd-round NFL draft pick at the NFL Players Rookie Premiere Photoshoot May 20, 2006 (Getty images)|
Jackson hopes that will improve as his field relationship with Brady improves.
"I wouldn't say we're on the same page right now," said Jackson. "We still have a lot of work to do. (Tom) is still frustrated right now about how the offense is still struggling a little bit, especially the passing game. So, he just wants it to get back on top. He wants it to be like a Super Bowl passing offense, what it used to be. We just got a lot of work to do to get this team going."
Things should get going a little faster with Jackson in action, especially if he can build on a successful debut and become the consistent playmaker New England was hoping it was getting when it traded up on draft day to select the exceptionally talented Gator. The Patriots saw flashes of it against the Jets, and will need to see more in the coming weeks to help lift the passing game in the absence of its top two receivers from the previous four seasons.
"I think that Chad did some positive things," coach Bill Belichick said summarizing his rookie's debut. "He was in there for a decent amount of plays. Some good. Some could have been better. Really it was like his first preseason game, only it's not. There are things that he learned (against the Jets) and I think that he's done better in practice, he really hasn't been practicing all that long either. The more he can stay out there, the more he can get reps, see himself do it on the field, and correct it and go up there the next day and get better and that's how you make progress."
That took a step in the right direction against the Jets and Jackson will be looking to build on that progress in this week's Sunday night matchup with the Broncos as he debuts in front of the home crowd at Gillette Stadium.