When we saw Jamaal Jackson play the entire first half with the starting offense Thursday night, the obvious conclusion was that Jackson had moved ahead of rookie Jason Kelce in their battle for the Eagles starting center job.
Kelce and Jackson split first-team reps at center at training camp, but on Thursday night in Pittsburgh, it was all Jackson.
So much for obvious conclusions.
This week? It will be all Kelce.
Jackson said after practice Saturday he was told he wont be getting any first-team reps this week.
Practice Saturday back at the NovaCare Complex was closed to the media, but Jackson and Kelce both said Kelce, the rookie sixth-round pick from Cincinnati, practiced with the starting offensive line and will continue in that role through at least the preseason game Thursday night against the Browns.
Me personally, Im a competitor, Jackson said. You just got to roll with it. First and foremost, Im a team player. Whatevers best for the club, Im going to roll with it. But Id like to be in there and Im going to just prepare myself as if Ill be in there and hopefully when my numbers called Ill be ready.
Jackson has started 72 games at center for the Eagles, and hes the only player left who was on the roster during the 2004 Super Bowl season, but his 2009 season ended with a torn ACL in a Christmas week game against the Broncos at the Linc, and his 2010 season ended with a triceps tear on opening day against the Packers, also at the Linc.
Just got to fill in where I can and see what happens, the 31-year-old Jackson said. The one thing I can control is way I play, and I feel as though Im back and healthy as far as the elbow and the knee. I havent have any ill effects, I felt like I played pretty well (against the Steelers), thought I did a pretty good job. But its his turn to take the reins a little bit and well see how he does.
Theres a long history of centers competing with each other since Andy Reid became the Eagles head coach 12 years ago.
Bubba Miller was the starter in 2000, but he was beaten out by Hank Fraley in 2001. Fraley remained the starter until the middle of 2005.
In August 2006, Fraley and Jackson appeared together on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a story detailing their competition for the starting job.
Jackson, who was undrafted, like Miller and Fraley, won and his been entrenched at center for the Eagles ever since. Now hes battling a guy whos seven years younger and has never played in a regular-season game.
Its a great opportunity for me, Kelce said. Im in a great situation here, a situation most rookies dont get. I think Im ahead of track. Coming in, I didnt expect getting this much attention, especially with Jamaal coming back. I just wanted to get better every day, work on my technique and learn -- which Im still doing -- but I didnt expect any of this.
Theres no telling what will happen next. Kelce has the team made no matter what, but will the Eagles want to keep Jackson as a backup? His salary isnt prohibitive (1.575 million base, 1.675 million cap figure). Theres also the presence of Mike McGlynn, the starter last year but now almost exclusively a backup guard.
Kelce, at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, appears to fit new line coach Howard Mudds model of smaller, athletic linemen more than Jackson, who is 6-4, 330.
But Jackson has started 72 games as an Eagle, more than any offensive lineman other than Todd Herremans (76).
Its good competition, Kelce said. Jamaals one of those guys, hes going to help you out no matter what, and Ive got a lot of respect for him. Hes never once gotten an attitude or anything like that.
Hes a seven-year veteran and Im a rookie, and I would imagine its tough, and obviously he wants to be out there playing -- and theres nothing right now that says he wont be the one playing.
But theyre trying to develop me, and its a great chance for me to get reps. I always prepare as if Im going to be the one starting, even when Im not starting. That way, no matter what happens, Ill feel like Im prepared when I do get the call.
E-mail Reuben Frank at email@example.com