Friday, August 09, 2002
Bills' backup tight end battling for roster spot
By LEO ROTH
Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle
PITTSFORD, N.Y. In addition to size, speed and strength, Buffalo Bills tight end Sheldon Jackson has eyes and ears. He can see that he's just one of 23 players on the training-camp roster that were brought to the team by former general manager John Butler.
He witnessed Tom Donahoe, the new man in charge, sign free agents Dave Moore and Brady McDonnell to compete with him and fellow returnees Jay Riemersma and Dan O'Leary for the three tight end jobs.
He hears the scuttlebutt that Donahoe, who has already replaced 75 percent of Butler's team in just two seasons, won't be happy until it's more like 85 or 90. Will being one of Butler's boys hurt his chances of making the team this year?
I'm not even touching that one, I'm just fortunate to still be here, said Jackson, a 1999 seventh-round draft choice who will be in action Friday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Bills open their preseason schedule against the Cincinnati Bengals. This is what I can affect - my effort - and you just hope whoever is in the front office and judging talent says, "Hey, he's all right, let's keep him.' I can't look at it like I'm one of the few John Butler guys still around. If you do that, you'll be scared stiff that you're the one whose gone next.
With Donahoe's piercing eyes unnerving players at each practice, Jackson goes about his business with Grade-A effort, refusing to allow the pressure ruin his fun-loving personality.
The man who owns a degree in psychology, paints his fingernails, runs a tattoo shop and this year is sporting a bleached-blond goatee, has always possessed a great attitude about football and about life.
I've always approached it as nobody's job is set in stone here, said Jackson, who grew up in Laverne, Calif. Regardless of who they bring in, you still approach it like every day is your last.
They bring a new offense in, you've got to learn it. They bring in guys at your position, you've got to beat them out. You've got to stay hungry, make plays and be as consistent as you possibly can and when it's over, and the final 53 comes out, hope your name is on the list.
Jackson was a first team All-Big 12 performer at Nebraska who starred on the Cornhuskers' 1997 co-national champs. Playing behind the ultra-talented Riemersma, he's never had much opportunity to show his stuff in the NFL. Still, he's made big plays when called upon, like a 1-yard touchdown catch last season against Miami.
I try to never get frustrated, said Jackson, who has 10 career catches for 71 yards and 2 TDs. I play a lot of special teams and to me, that's a ball, and so is playing two tight-end sets or in goal-line. I don't stress over the fact I'm not the featured tight end because, truthfully, I'm just happy to be on the squad. This is a great job and the alternative would be being back home in California doing God knows what. I'm fortunate enough to have this opportunity again to make the team.
Four days before reporting to camp, Jackson appeared in a Cambridge, Ill., court to resolve charges of driving with a suspended New York license and possessing less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. He paid fines for each misdemeanor.
Jackson said he regretted making headlines because it shed negative light on the Bills.
I've talked to the coaches and the GM and everything's straight, he said. Things happen to people. I'm in the limelight, I dealt with it and I faced up to it. I'm not ashamed. It happened so you deal with it and put it behind you.
Jackson, one of the Bills most popular and community-minded players, spends a good chunk of each day signing autographs for fans. His goatee and infectious smile make him easy to spot.
Jackson was spending time in Nebraska with his brother who was bleaching his hair, when Sheldon decided to doctor up his long chin whiskers.
I actually died it purple and it was a sweet purple, too, he said. But it washed out and this is what's left.
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