Interview with Lawrence Jackson, DE Detroit Lions
Interview with Lawrence Jackson, DE Detroit Lions
If you’re looking for some straight up talk, you’re in for a treat. Lawrence Jackson (LoJack) got a raw deal in his first few seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and he’s not afraid to talk about it and the misperceptions the media conveys.
From nasty foot injuries that limited him physically, to coaching issues in Seattle, LoJack pushed through adversity to produce career bests in 2010 with the Detroit Lions. The former first round pick talked with us about the initial mental impact of the 2010 trade to the Detroit Lions, our “Secret Superstar” article, and his hate for Tony Romo.
Steve Wyremski (SW): How’s everything? Offseason treating you well?
Lawrence Jackson (LJ): Yeah, it’s going pretty well. This is my first offseason where I finally have my priorities in line in terms of understanding what I need to do as an athlete and where I want to take my athletic ability in the future. This is by far the best, hardest and most efficient I’ve worked out in the offseason since I’ve been in the league. It’s been a different training regimen just because I’m doing rehab. In general, it’s the best offseason I’ve had to date.
SW: You recently had ankle surgery and, like you said, you’re rehabbing. Can you tell me how that’s coming along?
LJ: The ankle rehab is going excellent. I’d say I have an extra two inches of range of motion in my ankle. Getting my body used to the firing of the muscles. My calf muscles look different when I flex [as compared to] six months ago. I’m starting to get into football specific movement this week doing get-offs and running around with cleats on the field. I’ve been doing footwork to increase the weight bearing aspect of it. I still need to build up strength in that new flexibility, the tendons need to stretch and get stronger, the calf muscles need to stretch and get stronger, [and] my quad needs to get used to my knee being over my big toe. That’s something I haven’t had in six to seven years. It’s going very well.
SW: You talk about the additional range of motion you have and will have. How do you think that’s going to impact your play on the field?
LJ: For one, it helps my get-off. Looking at last year’s film, when I’d get off on the left side my right knee would buckle in on take off. In driving off the foot, the ankle’s supposed to collapse, but when I would get off it would be bone on bone and to create that range of motion my knee would have to go in and I’d waste so much energy and momentum. It was like I’d taken off in a race and kept skidding out when everybody else was moving forward. The main thing is that everything in my glute is [now] firing right and that will give me more thrust on take off.
SW: In the first round of the NFL draft last month, the Lions selected Nick Fairley. What’d you think of the pick?
LJ: Let me just say that when the Vikings were on the clock, I noticed that Fairley was still on the board. As a football fan, it would make sense [for them to take Fairley] with Pat Williams and Kevin Williams getting kind of old. It would be ridiculous for them to pass Fairley up. If they passed him up, I knew for sure that Detroit would take him. When they picked Christian Ponder, I was like… this is about to be [absolutely] ridiculous to have two legitimate potential number one picks and two Lombardi winners side by side on the D-line. In drafting him, it creates a constant wave of attack every play. The one thing I noticed right away is that it’s very rare to have this many quality young guys on one team, especially at the defensive line position.
SW: You say that you knew the Lions were going to select him. How and why?
LJ: In understanding the philosophy that [the Lions have] built and what they’ve said in the media with the acquisition of more players like myself and how I fit into their whole theme of building. With Coach Schwartz and how he says how important the defensive line is… when you have a chance to add a player like this to a scheme designed for disruption up front, it’s a no brainer. When you have a good pass rush, it makes life so much easier for everybody. Knowing that Fairley is a can’t miss prospect and there is room for him to come in and learn, it was almost certain that they were going to [draft] him. It was too much value for a guy like him at that spot.
SW: You grew up in Inglewood, California which isn’t exactly known as the safest city in the country. How’d that impact your life through high school and, ultimately, through today?
LJ: It gave me a different outlook on life. Before I got to college, it provided a unique strand of toughness. It created a mindset where you don’t take [crap] from anybody, you stand up for what you believe in and you fight with everything you have to stand up for what you believe in. Regardless of what it is, you can’t judge somebody’s morals. You have to judge their intent. Through seeing people gang bang, sell drugs, and people doing all types of bad stuff… you never condone that, but you learn that these people are committed to what they’re doing. If I want to do something positive with my life, I wanted to have that same [mindset]. When I got to college, the education process took a hold of me. Now, being from Inglewood as an adult, I have a unique balance. I’m able to identify with my deep urban roots, but I’m also able to identify with an eclectic side that you gain from various aspects of life.
SW: Out of USC you were drafted by the Seahawks in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and looking at the statistics from your first two season, it appeared you struggled. What was the biggest cause of that?
LJ: The first year was due to injury. I had one of the most miserable foot injuries that you can have. I was amazed when [the same injury] was quoted in the book “Born to Run” and the author described it as having an ice pick wedged in your foot. It was an injury where they sat me down and told me there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s going to be like that all season and it will get better with time. It was a tough period, but it forced me to mature as a player. As a rookie you rely on your athleticism, but that was taken away from me and I had to rely on my mental game with the older players. Playing a mental game with older players in a game you know nothing about is challenging. I learned so much that year going through that adversity.
In the next year, the new coaching staff came in and they sat me down and told me I played too many positions and they wanted me to focus at left defensive end only. The whole offseason I worked on left defensive end. I’d worked on my angles, hand placement, my vision coming around the corner. Going into the season I started off on fire [with] 4 sacks in the first five or six games and they saw why they drafted me. There was a dramatic switch in perception and people understood why the Seahawks drafted me. [In] game 5, [Patrick] Kerney hurt his groin and the coaches sat me down and told me it would be best for the team to move to right defensive end. Right defensive end and left defensive end in that defense were two completely different things. It was like an F-150 and a Maserati. That whole offseason I trained to be an F-150 and then was asked to get on this track with these Maseratis. I wasn’t ready for that. They knew it was going to be tough and just told me to stick with it.
I had a couple of bad games. The first game was against Detroit. They had this formation where it was two tight ends to the right and it was an offset single back. We knew that they were going to do a playaction pass. The right defensive end was told to get wide and rush. I couldn’t beat Jeff Backus even though I knew it was going to be a pass. That started a snowball effect. Then I had a bad game against the Houston Texans pass rush wise versus Duane Brown. I was trying to find out what this position was about. All of a sudden I saw my snaps diminish. I remember when I was out of the games at times for 15-16 plays in a row. It’s like how am I the leading sacker on the team and not on the field on 3rd down and getting taken out in pass situations. We also played a lot of cover 2 and I was in situations where I wasn’t rushing the passer, so that’s why my numbers didn’t reflect my ability. In the two years in Seattle in passing situations, I played (being generous) probably 13 snaps at defensive end.
SW: In August 2010, soon after your former USC coach Pete Carroll arrived to take over as head coach of the Seahawks, you were traded to the Lions for a sixth round pick. How’d you feel about how that all went down?
LJ: At first I was really embarrassed. I was the most frustrated that I’ve ever been out in Seattle. I was sleeping in meetings, doodling, and not paying attention. We broke from a defense meeting and a guy was standing outside and said, “Lawrence, [GM John] Schneider wants to talk to you.” I already knew what was going on, I’d already talked to my agent. At that point, I was excited that I was out of Seattle.
Walking out of the office, I couldn’t even say goodbye to my teammates because I was ready to break down in tears. It was like, here I am the first round draft pick trying to build my career and, all of a sudden, two years and I’m out of here. This doesn’t happen. This isn’t right. Before that, I told myself that if I ever got traded I would retire because I’d feel like an embarrassment and a failure.
[However,] talking to my family and friends allowed me to see that Detroit was a godsend because they were building a team to be in a winning environment. I was excited to be out of Seattle and excited to be going to Detroit and being a part of that defensive line.
SW: There are a number of articles from your time out in Seattle stating that your “lack of success” is a work ethic thing. What do you say to those people?
LJ: For me, it hurts. It really does. I remember an Eagles game I sprained my ankle really bad and I couldn’t walk. I got it taped up and told the coach I couldn’t play anymore, but if he needed me to go in an emergency situation I would. I remember looking at [an article] and it said, “Jackson gets pulled because of lack of effort”. I’m like… are you serious? I destroyed my ankle. I was upset because I never got put on the injury report, so nobody understood what was going on. When I got surgery this past year, I had a chipped bone in my ankle at the spot that I hurt in that Eagles game. The sprain was so tough it pulled the bone off. To hear people say that, it blew my mind. For people to say it was from a lack of effort, I felt off guard and disrespected.
SW: Going from a 1st round pick in 2008 to being traded for a 6th round pick in 2010 – what does that do to a young player’s confidence?
LJ: Potentially destroy it. I think it’s important you whip yourself back into shape mentally. You have to understand the business. I understood that [the Seahawks] got Kentwan Balmer for a 6th round pick so that was the going rate. On the flip side, Randy Moss was traded for a 4th round draft pick. [He has] a phrase coined after [him] – “Getting Moss’d”. This guy went for a 4th round pick (a hall of fame player) and I go for a 6th round pick… how can I be mad at that? I can’t let that label destroy my confidence. I was always confident in my ability as a football player because the numbers don’t lie. I’ve been productive on every level and answered all adversity that’s come my way. I knew that working and sticking with the process would lead me to being productive and helping my team.
SW: With all that went on in Seattle – do you play with a chip on your shoulder because of it?
LJ: I don’t. I don’t rely on external motivation to get me going. If I did, right now I’d have no motivation because everything went well for me last season. I played limited snaps, got career best numbers… the chip would have been off my shoulder. I’m upset that Seattle traded back three spots to get me. That was a motivator initially. The fact that I got traded provided some motivation, but my real motivation is to be one of the best defensive ends to play the game. My goal is to be a part of that elite fraternity. You don’t get to the Hall of Fame until you get to the Hall of Fame. That motivation is everlasting.
I don’t look at it like I’m an NFL football player and I want to go to the Hall of Fame, it’s a far-reaching goal. No. It’s a game just like chess. This game is played by principles. If you’re a hard-nosed, tough, ferocious player that has an undying desire to get to the ball… you make a name for yourself. When you make a name for yourself and people respect you for playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, you get put in a special class. That’s the only motivator that I have.
SW: You played limited snaps with the Lions in your first 9 weeks of the season last year. However, Cliff Avril didn’t play week 10 against the Bills and you saw some action and finished with 6 tackles, a sack, 5 stops, and you excelled in run defense. What happened that game that allowed you to break out?
LJ: Going into that game, it was the first time that I knew I was going to play for sure. Based on the 45-man roster and how they allot the numbers for defensive line, I knew that every week (if somebody didn’t get hurt) that I would be inactive. The first 9 games, for those that I did play, it was a receiver, running back or a safety there was someone missing from action and I got called up. Even in those cases, I had a very limited role. Playing all week with that uncertainty of whether you’re going to play or not, you have that edge, but there’s a special place that you go knowing that you’re going to play on Sunday. Knowing I was going to play Sunday, my job was to know the guy I was playing and the offense like the back of my hand because I knew I was going to be in the battle for sure. I live by the quote, “The more your sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”. That game was just a reflection of study, preparation, and hard work.
SW: In 2010, you recorded a sack every 18 snaps (ranked 3rd in the league among 4-3 DEs). You also recorded a stop every 42 snaps (ranked 2nd in the league among 4-3 DEs). What about your game do you attribute that to?
LJ: I feel like I’m a great problem solver, I’m analytical, and I’m a student of the game. My years in college and my first two years in the league, I had a problem of thinking too much. Jim Mora sat me down and said, “Look…you think too much. You need to figure out a way to get all your work done during the week so you don’t think.” Now I understand the difference between reading the book before the play and trusting my abilities before the ball is snapped. I have a problem [if I’m] not getting to the ball. I want to get to the ball every single play. I want to make a difference every single play. I take it personal when they try to run to my side. I don’t like being denied. [All of these factors] makes for a tough day for your opponent.
SW [Explain PFF], we rated you a +14.8 for the year, which ranked you as the #20 4-3 DE. Despite the #20 rating, you still don’t get the press that many of the other guys ranked around you get (i.e., Chris Long, Osi Umenyiora, etc,). Why do you think that is?
LJ: The media does a good job of altering perception. There are so many athletes that turn into superstars and eventually the hype machine runs out. I’ve always been the player that did not get the respect for some reason. It baffles me. The one thing I can say is that I use Jay-Z as a motivator. Jay-Z is one of the greatest rappers of all time and for people to question his greatness or his impact, it baffles him. My favorite song is Reminder. He has a line that says, “Men lie, woman lie, but numbers don’t.” My whole thing is that if I’m going through the situation where my numbers say one thing but men and women are saying a different thing, I know that at the end of the day the numbers are going to show. [Jay-Z] has so many achievements, but people still don’t get it. I understand that people don’t get it and it’s a preference. It’s hard to change people’s preference.
It’s like eating dinner. You’re not going to try something new unless it’s forced in front of you. When you try [the new food], you’re blown away by it, but you wouldn’t have tried it if somebody didn’t push you. There’s nobody pushing to create a positive perception about me… nobody pushing the media to understand the facts of my career and what happened.
SW: The Pro Football Focus staff wrote a “Secret Superstar” article about you back in April. Did you see it? If so, what’d you think?
LJ: I saw it, read it multiple times and showed it to my closest friends. I loved it. I thought that it was an unbiased account of what happened during the season. I did disagree with one point: the Miami game. Undoubtedly Jake Long is one of the best offensive tackles in the game. It was very challenging for me to beat him in the past. It’s like playing a very intelligent chess player. I was able to find holes in his game, but I wasn’t able to exploit them. Part of it was where I was athletically at the time. I felt that it was one of my best games of the year. I felt like I made a tackle on every opportunity in the run game and that I disrupted so many of those plays. The play against Ricky Williams is my all time favorite play. If someone asked me to give the one play that I stand for… that would be it.
I’ve seen [PFF’s] work. To have those numbers out there for fans to see despite what they read when [my name] is typed in the Google search bar (hearing about me being a top ten bust in Seattle history). For them to understand reality was a huge weight to be lifted off my shoulders.
SW: That Miami game you mentioned – statistically it’s your best game of the year by far. We ranked your run defense positively, but it was the pass rush where we felt you struggled in that game.
LJ: I did struggle that game in the pass rush. Big time. I wasn’t physically in the position to be an elite player. When you go against a player like [Jake Long], if you’re not right it gets exposed. It got exposed. From the take-off, not being explosive enough, not having enough flexibility to get underneath him and dictate what I want… all those things got exposed and I’m ok with that.
SW: If you could get a hit on one quarterback in the NFL who would it be and why?
LJ: Tony Romo. It’s the Cowboys, he’s the quarterback of the Cowboys, it’s just…. it’s just something about that whole thing I don’t like – his attitude [and] his swagger on the field. It’s like one of those guys you hang out with, say if you’re at a party or something, you’re saying to yourself, “I just want to punch this guy.” Like “Step Brothers”. It’s the freaking brother that comes up… I just want to punch him. Only I don’t have to punch [Romo], I can sack him.
SW: The “Restore the Roar” mentality out in Detroit right now. Tell me a bit about that and how the mentality of the team and fans out there has changed.
LJ: I definitely feel that the fans believe in us. They see that despite our record, they see we fought hard in every game and were capable of winning every game. That’s something that they haven’t seen in a long time. This isn’t that 0-16 team. This isn’t that organization. It’s completely different. We left everything on the table [in 2010]. We put in hard work and [fought] to finish out every play. We made great strides as a team. We have great players coming in and guys now know what it feels like to be in every game.
Now we have rhythm to run with and it’s up to us to build that and maintain our principles. Coach Schwartz is not going to let us think anything different. He’s not going to let us not fight. He’s not going to let us not be tough. The front office is not going to let that happen. The way they build it, they get guys that play their style of football. If we maintain what we’re doing and continue to build on that then we’re going to be competitive in every game and I think the fans appreciate that.
Tony Romo better watch himself. LoJack seems to be in pristine shape and set to continue 2011 like he closed out 2010.
I’ll be watching the 2011 Week 4 showdown between the Lions and Cowboys, that’s for sure.