Adaptability has become second nature for Detroit Lions offensive lineman Jonah Jackson and that trait is helping him to hold his own as a rookie in one of the most unique offseasons in NFL history.
Through his four years at Rutgers University and one season as a graduate transfer at Ohio State, he played under a half-dozen head coaches, coordinators and positional assistants. But Jackson’s ability to quickly adjust to change explains why he’s on track to start as an NFL rookie, despite not having a traditional offseason program to prepare for the transition.
“I would say he is a guy that is very mature, he studies extremely hard, nothing really kind of fazes him,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said last week. “I think even just the move from Rutgers to Ohio State is something where he’s handled transition before. So for him, this is just another transition into a new team and trying to learn everybody really quick. So I think he’s done a really good job with that stuff.”
Jackson said meshing with his new team has been made easier by veteran teammates who have welcomed him and the other rookies with open arms. That’s led to quick cohesion in the locker room, as well as on the field, where linemates Frank Ragnow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai are making the job easier.
“You know, it definitely makes life easier, just being able to break down the defense’s fronts and everything and being able to process things faster,” Jackson said Wednesday. “You have a brilliant guy in Frank and he’s able to point out all the calls and stuff. … And with Big V, he’s a veteran guy and he’s won a lot of games, so he helps me hone in on my craft and become the best player I can be.”
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Even though Jackson only played at Ohio State one season, that year provided him with the opportunity to go against NFL-caliber prospects in practice, including another Lions draft pick, Jashon Cornell. But the offensive lineman acknowledged the speed and strength of his new teammates is noticeably different.
“Yeah, it’s definitely been eye-opening,” Jackson said. “You get to see what the talent is in the NFL, and being a professional now, you get to against veteran guys like Danny Shelton and Nick Williams and see how you match up against those guys.”
The scouting report on Jackson will tell you he’s technically proficient, particularly with his footwork. That’s been clear in these early practices. But it’s his upper body, particularly his ability to use his hands, that’s been the focus as he’s adjusting to this level of competition.
“A lot of it, you have to get your hands on them and you’ve got to be able to keep separation,” he said. “Guys at this level know how to beat that and work their way around that. Just honing in on my technique and beating them to the point before they can get me.
“I definitely feel confident in my game to be able to handle anybody.”