There are 90 players on the Eagles roster. Only one of them was with the team when it went to Super Bowl XXXIX back in February 2005 - center Jamaal Jackson.
Jackson spent the 2004 season on Injured Reserve with a torn triceps injury, but outside of the front office and the coaching staff he is the only link between the present and the past. There is a lot of optimism surrounding this year's squad with the experience gained from last year's run to a division title mixed in with the numerous veteran additions made through free agent signings and trades. Jackson is the one player who can relate to what made everything come together then and what has happened to the team since.
"Just being so close and not bringing home the ring, that hurts. We've had ample opportunities to try and do it again. I think just this year alone if we go that extra step, take that extra mile and do the little things right we'll be right where we want to be," Jackson said. "We just have to put it all together. We have to play as a team and hopefully we'll get this ship turned right."
Jackson took over as the center midway through the 2005 season and made 71 straight appearances as the starter until an ACL injury ended his 2009 season just before the playoffs. After an arduous rehab, Jackson was back for the 2010 season opener but tore his triceps muscle against Green Bay and was lost for the season.
How much was Jackson missed? The Eagles have never scored fewer than 23 points in a playoff game with Jackson at center. The Eagles scored 14 points against the Cowboys in 2009 and 16 points against the Packers last season.
Jackson said that he's in "mid-season form" in terms of his health with no pain in either his arm or with his knee. Jackson has split first-team reps at center with rookie Jason Kelce at training camp, but got the green light to start Thursday against Baltimore.
After spending his entire career with Juan Castillo as his position coach, Jackson has adjusted to Howard Mudd's scheme. The biggest change for Jackson is getting to fire off the ball in pass protection instead of retreating to wait for the defender.
"It's nice to be aggressive sometimes. In our scheme, whether it was this year or last year, we use our passing game to be aggressive. This year, we're coming off of the ball a lot more in the passing game. It's kind of like taking the fight to the defense," Jackson said. "The most important thing that Mudd told us was the quarterback is not getting hit and he is not getting sacked. That's our main objective is to keep the quarterback clean. We'll just take it from there."
And hopefully they'll take it all the way to the Super Bowl.
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