The longest-tenured Eagle left the nest today, and as he prepared to resume his NFL career elsewhere, Jamaal Jackson said his fondest Eagles memory involved Juan Castillo.
It was preseason, 2004. Jackson, a practice-squad offensive lineman as an undrafted rookie from Delaware State in 2003, had just suffered a triceps tear and was going on injured reserve. So he would enter 2005 having been around the Eagles for two years, and never having played in a game.
"I had a conversation with Juan, and he told me I could play in this league," Jackson recalled. "He was the only person who believed in me ... some people have said we have a father-son relationship. That might be a little strong, but we are pretty close."
Jackson took over as the starting center midway through 2005 and didn't look back until the next-to-last game of 2009, when he suffered an ACL tear. He rehabbed that, tore another triceps in the 2010 opener. By last spring when Jackson was healthy again, Castillo was the defensive coordinator and Howard Mudd was the offensive line coach. Jackson, a less-than-svelte 6-4, 325, had an idea what was coming.
"I followed how he coached guys in Indy, and Seattle before that, and way back, even in Cleveland," Jackson said. Mudd wanted a different approach and a different body type than Castillo preferred. If you saw 280-pound rookie center Jason Kelce blocking linebackers downfield for Shady McCoy last season, you get the drift. That wasn't Jackson, who made the right calls and did his best to keep Donovan McNabb safe for 77 straight starts.
"I kinda knew I wasn't his kind of o-lineman," Jackson said. He played in all 16 games last season, blocking for extra points and kicks. Rarely played from scrimmage, much like right tackle Winston Justice, another bad Mudd fit who was traded today to the Colts.
"It bothers me a little bit," Jackson allowed. "I felt sure I could have helped the team last year."
He says he has no idea where he might end up. Agent J.R. Rickert is working the phones. Jackson isn't sure if the fact that his last real game film is from 2009 will hurt him much. The upside is, as he prepares to turn 32 in May, Jackson feels he has tread left on his tires.
"I welcome the new challenge," he said. "But I like a regular routine. I like to do the same thing every day. Knowing where I'm going to play would be a big help."
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