Frisman Jackson on the move at minicamp
When you see Frisman Jackson around the Weeb Ewbank halls, he could be wearing a cap bearing a San Antonio Spur or an Anaheim Duck or a Florida Gator.
"I have every hat from every team in every league," said Jackson, who this day was sporting the dancing "A" of the Atlanta Braves over his brow. "I wear a different one every day."
But the logo he really wants to display, on a baseball cap and especially on the polycarbonate hat required on the gridiron, belongs to the Jets.
Some fans may have missed Jackson's signing as a street free agent back in January, while others may have forgotten he wore No. 18 at last month's minicamp and is still hanging around with the Green & White wide receivers.
"This is a fresh start for me," he told newyorkjets.com recently. "I'm confident. I believe in my heart that I can do things in this league if I'm given the opportunity. And this is one of the best places to be. Coach Mangini truly believes if you're the best player, you'll play."
There are a lot of interesting details about Jackson's journey from the mean streets of Chicago to the Jets' 80-man roster heading toward July 27 and the first practice of Eric Mangini's second training camp as Jets head coach.
For one thing, there's V — not for Vendetta but for Versatility. When the 6'3", 217-pounder began his college career at Northern Illinois in 1997, he was not a wideout but a quarterback. In that role, he completed his first touchdown pass, a 32-yarder, to a name familiar to Jets fans: Justin McCareins, also a freshman who had just begun climbing NIU's receiving and all-purpose lists.
Meanwhile, Jackson proceeded in 2000 to Western Illinois, for one more year of quarterbacking before finishing up as a WR. During his WIU tenure, his coach, Don Patterson, called him "a phenomenal athlete," for such plays as a tackle-breaking 77-yard touchdown run as a junior.
Despite that athleticism, Jackson began his NFL career as an undrafted rookie with the Cleveland Browns and managed no starts and 16 receptions in his first three seasons hard by Lake Erie.
But that physicality returned with a roar in the 2005 opener against the Bengals. Jackson had a career game — eight catches for 128 yards and a 68-yard TD.
"I ran a 5-yard crossing route, Trent Dilfer threw it and I got a bunch of key blocks," he recalled. "That was the first touchdown of my NFL career. When I got to the end zone, I didn't know what to do. I ended up just dunking the ball over the crossbar. It's been done a million times, but it was my first time. It was an ecstatic moment for me."
But there were only 16 more catches that season, then last September the Browns made him a final cut. Despite tryouts with the Jets and Chiefs, he stayed on the sideline.
But Jackson left Cleveland with a good relationship with head coach Romeo Crennel — who, Jets faithful recall, shared Mangini's house for a while when the two were New England assistants — and a good idea of what he had to do next.
"It wasn't really a wakeup call, but it made me respect the game that much more," he said. "When you get cut, you realize this is a business. And you do as much as you can to get back in it."
Now Jackson's back, trying to carve out a new niche alongside Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, Tim Dwight and his old college mate McCareins.
"It's just a strong group. It reminds me of my first two years in Cleveland," he said. "There's no animosity. We all hang out. You're competing with each other, but you've still got to be friends."
Jackson's no lock to be going from orange to green headwear, but he's got a lot of the core Jet values to make a go at it — even though he's staring a Mangini training camp in the face.
"I've heard stories about last year's camp," he said. "But I've got to do it. There's no choice for me, not playing last year. I just appreciate being around the game again. I'll give it everything I've got. My saying for the whole year is I'll rest when I'm dead."