They laugh about it now.
Every once in a while, Tyree Jackson will send a video to Naaman Roosevelt, who helped oversee his transition from quarterback to tight end within the last year. The videos, shot on Roosevelt’s phone, will often be from November or December, when Jackson first began to learn his new position.
“Bro, this is crazy,” Jackson will say.
Then they’ll laugh and marvel about how far Jackson has come in the last eight months.
“Just the difference,” Roosevelt said to NBC Sports Philadelphia on Friday. “It was just funny to see him lining up and running routes to now he’s just bursting out of his slant routes, he’s using his hands. He gives you a move at the top of the route now. It’s crazy. We worked on all that.”
And all that hard work is paying off.
Through eight days of Eagles training camp, Jackson has been one of the biggest surprises on the roster. The 6-foot-7, 249-pound former quarterback stands out because of his size but he’s beginning to stand out because of his play too.
Against all odds, he’s beginning to make a serious push for a roster spot.
That’s hard to believe, especially considering Jackson had never played tight end before November. The former University of Buffalo star, who had a brief cup of coffee with the Bills before playing in the XFL, came to the realization that if he wanted to get back into the NFL it wasn’t going to be as a quarterback. Because of his natural size and athleticism, tight end seemed like a good fit. And after a chat with his college coach Lance Leipold, he dove into his position change full bore.
“I just love football and I felt like [playing tight end] was my opportunity to get back into the NFL and have an opportunity to play football,” Jackson said. “That’s really all it took was to know that. That’s why I made the switch.”
Jackson is 23 and Roosevelt is 33 but they know each other because they were both stars at the University of Buffalo. Roosevelt spent a few years in the NFL and a few years in the CFL and has recently been coaching some players in and around his hometown of Buffalo.
So once Jackson decided on a position switch, he enlisted the help of Roosevelt to teach him how to run routes. These were not casual workouts.
“We were grinding,” Roosevelt said. “He came to work. He worked every day and he got better. He was so motivated to just do anything. He was like, ‘Man, I just want to play.’ You saw the passion that he just wanted to show that he can do it. He put the work in.”
They began in November and went through July, almost until it was time for Jackson to report for training camp. During those cold winter months in Buffalo, they used the indoor facility on campus. Roosevelt said they worked out two to three times per week for 2-3 hours at a time without fail. And after they were done working on routes, Jackson would stay behind to hit the bag to become a better blocker.
They started off from the very bottom. As a former quarterback, Jackson had great football knowledge but didn’t yet know the details of how to run routes. And running routes begins with a stance … so that’s where they started. Literally how to stand.
From there, they began to walk through routes, then they jogged them, then they ran. Then they broke it down even further.
After Jackson got down the basics, Roosevelt unloaded the depth of his decades of receiver experience. How to hit the top of a route, how to get off press, how to use your hands, how to run a route based on the defensive back. Every detail matters.
Jackson’s attention to detail has made an impression since training camp began late last month.
“You see the sticks on his routes,” quarterback Nick Mullens said. “That’s the biggest thing. If you know when a guy’s going to stick his foot in the ground, then you can anticipate the throw. Tyree’s done a great job of that and he’s shown a lot of that very well in camp so far.”
Jackson was just a month or so into his transition to tight end when the Eagles brought him in for a workout in December. He must have impressed them enough because they signed him to a futures deal in January.
“This was my last workout and I was fortunate enough to get signed after,” Jackson said. “It’s just been a blessing.”
Of course, the Eagles signed Jackson on Jan. 7 and then fired their head coach a few days later. Eventually, the Eagles hired Nick Sirianni, who brought in Colts tight ends coach Jason Michael to coach the same position in Philadelphia.
Michael, 42, has coached in the NFL for 15 years, most of which have come as a tight ends coach. In Indianapolis, he helped turn former college basketball player Mo Alie-Cox into a legitimate NFL tight end. During the last few months, Jackson has seen a lot of tape of Alie-Cox and has listened to stories about his transition.
He has also followed Washington tight end Logan Thomas, who played quarterback at Virginia Tech and was a fourth-round pick back in 2014. Thomas eventually converted to tight end and just had a breakout season in 2020 with 72 catches for 670 yards and 6 touchdowns. This offseason, Jackson had a chance to reach out to Thomas as ask for some advice.
What did Thomas tell him?
“Just take it day by day, it’s not just going to be something that happens overnight,” Jackson recalled. “There will be frustrating days and good days but just take it step by step.”
The Eagles are an organization that has shown some patience with projects and they have also found some good results. Greg Ward Jr. successfully transitioned from a college quarterback to an NFL receiver and Jordan Mailata successfully transitioned from an Australian rugby player to a starting left tackle.
Even in the spring, Michael seemed impressed by the progress Jackson had showed.
“It’s new to him every day and he’s taking those strides and has a good mental aspect from football and that helps him to take those into the physical,” Michael said. “And he’s done a good job of that so far.”
During training camp, Jackson has made some big plays and he’s looked natural doing it. The Eagles are in an interesting situation at tight end. Dallas Goedert will likely be their top option and they re-signed Richard Rodgers to a one-year deal. Zach Ertz is on the roster, but in an obviously tenuous situation.
So maybe there simply isn’t a roster spot available for Jackson. But if he keep performing the way he has during training camp, the Eagles certainly won’t want to lose him and all his potential.
“He put the work in,” said Roosevelt, who still talks to Jackson nearly every day. “It was honestly something special to see.”
It’s looking like Jackson’s story is far from over.
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