It's doubtful that many Redskins were happier at the news that Joe Gibbs was coming back to coach the Redskins than Jon Jansen was. The tackle had made no secret of his displeasure with the offense of Steve Spurrier with its pass-first philosophy and accompanying ineffective protection schemes. He yearned to fire out into the man in front of him, beat him physically, reestablish the line of scrimmage and pound the ball down the field. That was Joe Gibbs football.
As we all know, Jansen would have to wait a while to get a taste of it. Early in the first preseason game, his Achilles tendon was torn. The Rock, who never had missed a game, or rarely even an offensive play for that matter, was on the shelf for the entire season.
The only positive aspect of Jansen's injury was that it happened so early in the football calendar that he was ready and raring to go by the time OTA's started last year. At minicamp and in training camp it was as though he had never left. He was there as he had always been, or since 1999 anyway.
His year didn't start out in vintage Jansen form. He broke one thumb the week before the season opener and then, incredibly, he broke the other one in the first game of the season. Those injuries certainly didn't stop him from playing, of course, but they did hamper him to an extent. Between the thumbs and the rust he wasn't quite his old self in the early part of the season.
Along with the rest of the team, Jansen saved his best for last. As the team put together its season-ending five-game winning streak built on the running game that Jansen thrives in, The Rock was back.
It has long been known around Redskins Park that Jansen's has had the personal goal of making the Pro Bowl. While he has received plenty of praise for his play and his durability, he has yet to make it as even an alternate in his seven years in the league. His reputation has been as a player who is just below the level of the elite tackles in the league.
One of the factors in making the Pro Bowl, particularly for offensive linemen, is the success of the team. Jansen has had the misfortune of playing for much of his career on teams that weren't in the playoff hunt. His excellent play was buried from view under an avalanche consisting of revolving coaching staffs, mediocre running backs, confused offensive schemes, and B-list quarterbacks.
Now, all of that has changed. Bigger and better things are in the cards for the team after last year's 10-6 record and advance to the second round of the playoffs. The coaching staff is among the very best in the NFL. If Jansen is ever to earn the trip to Hawaii in early February, this is the year.
Jansen's personal goals mesh well with the team's goals. A Pro Bowl level performance by Jansen will be critical to the team's chances of advancing to Super Bowl XLI. At right tackle he protects the left-handed Mark Brunell's blind side. Brunell's health is widely considered to be the primary key to the team's success. By extension, that means that Jansen must remain on the field and play in his pre-2004 form for the full 16-game schedule.