Alonzo Jackson, making that ‘tweener transition

LATROBE - The wheels on his SUV continue to spin around even when the vehicle comes to a stop.<br><br> That's kind of how Alonzo Jackson kind of feels right now too, like he's spinning his wheels and going nowhere.

The Steelers' second-round pick is making the adjustment from college defensive end to outside linebacker, a conversion the Steelers have made successfully with players many times in the past.

Current starters Joey Porter and Jason Gildon were both standout college defensive ends, as were current backups Clark Haggans and Justin Kurpeikis.

But learning how to drop into pass coverage after years of lining up and heading for the passer is a process. And for Jackson thus far, it's been a slow one.

"Oh it's definitely different," said Porter, who earned his first Pro Bowl trip last season after leading the Steelers with 89 tackles and adding nine sacks and four interceptions.

"It's so different having to move around and do so many different things. Nobody comes here and learns it right away. You're always going to go through some growing pains. The only way to get over it is more reps. He has the talent. The organization wouldn't have taken him where they did if he didn't have the talent."

That's something Jackson will probably see a lot of when the Steelers play their first preseason game Saturday at Detroit. The rookie is looking forward to lining up and playing down after down. "I just want to show everyone why they went out and got me," said Jackson, who was a standout defensive end at Florida State.

In practice, the coaching staff has been very cognizant of giving Jackson an extra play when possible. But right now, he's just another youngster in camp, albeit one they had to use the 59th pick in the draft to acquire.

Head coach Bill Cowher can often be heard yelling the young player's name, giving him direction, as can defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and linebackers coach Keith Butler.

Jackson doesn't mind the extra attention because he knows he's got a lot to learn. He knows the coaching staff is on him a lot because they want him to become a better player, just as he wants to become a better player.

"I've got great people in front of me with Gildon and Porter and coach Lewis and coach Butler always staying hard on me every day," said Jackson, who had 23 career sacks for the Seminoles.

Now, Jackson faces the task of starting over, facing all of the things a rookie does, such as carrying the pads of the veterans at his position.

"By the time I got to my senior year, I was a big fish in a small pond. Here I'm a very small fish in a huge, gigantic pond. I'm just trying to get as big as I can, so to speak. As much as they can throw at me, I'm going to eat it up, keep learning," Jackson said.

"It's a humbling process. As you can see, I have Jason Gildon's shoulder pads in one hand and Joey Porter's in another," he continued, pointing to the pads of Gildon and Porter as he lugged them up the hill from the practice fields to the locker room at St. Vincent College.

"And I've got mine on my shoulders. It's just one of the things we have to do."

Jackson is known as a confident player. It's helped him keep his chin up, even as he struggles to make his transition and learn a new defense.

"He's a confident guy, no doubt about it," said Porter. "But that's good. We want him to have that. All of our linebackers have that."

So, even though first-round pick Troy Polamalu is moving up the team's depth chart at safety sliding to first team in the dime and nickel packages, Jackson is content for now to continue working on the second-team nickel, dime, and base defenses.

"I'm just going to keep going out there and playing," Jackson said.

And maybe at some point, those spinning wheels will hit the ground and take off.

Dale Lolley

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