Reading a statement from Jackson this morning, for the first time in Chilly's tenure I had the feeling that he's finally getting the message to his players that the need to hear. Jackson's comments were as follows:
“We know we can run the football,” he said. “We’ve proven that. We just have to get the passing game [going]. Like coach said, when we have to throw the football can we throw it? Not just on running downs or first down. When we have to throw the football late in games can we do it? We have to try to get to that level and be consistent with it.”
I have been a backer of Jackson's development, and felt hopeful about his elevation toward the end of last regular season. I have also watched disbelievingly at times when the coaching staff has not seemed to realistically appraise the challenges that lay ahead of us, or to demonstrate anything in the way of a "plan" or a sense of urgency in tight games. In particular, I remember how completely incompetent we were last year against the Eagles when we "had" to pass down the stretch of a game that was still very much in reach and they knew it. Over and again, Chilly's play calling was predictable, our receivers ran routes the defensive secondary had no problem shutting down, and Jackson (frankly) would have had to have been a miracle worker to have achieved any success against the blanket coverage we faced. A combination of predictable play calling, a depleted talent base at WR, and a quarterback who still lacked confidence and accuracy.
But, what I like so much about Jackson's quote this morning is that for the first time I am hearing the team talk about what nobody would say last year, that we need to be able to pass not just when we pull a surprise on first down, or huck a random ball downfield, but, as all great schemes do effectively, pass when the other team knows it's coming.
I have been disappointed to hear that neither quarterback has taken clear leadership this preseason. Truly, I didn't believe that Sage was capable of showing that kind of fire and (quietly) hoped Jackson would. But, at this point, we now seem to be in the midst of a legitimate battle for mere reliability and setting our focus on a goal that perhaps for the first time is finally realistic. We're talking about more than being just good enough to complement our run game. We're talking about being able to pass when we have to. And, I should say, I am glad to hear the words coming from Jackson. It shows me that at the very least he gets the thing I wasn't sure he got.
These are not the words of someone who has risen from the ashes. But, they are also not the words of a guy who just a year ago walked off the field and told the coach that he's just trying not to make any mistakes.