As the newcomer, Malik Jackson knows he has to learn how to play next to Fletcher Cox. He needs to learn the nuances of Cox’s game and how the All-Pro likes to rush the passer.
That’s a little hard without Cox at practice.
When Jackson took the field for his first session as an Eagle on Tuesday at OTAs, Cox wasn’t on the field as he recovers from an offseason foot surgery that’s expected to keep him sidelined until training camp. That’s Cox’s return goal, so Jackson and Cox won’t line up next to each other for over two months.
So Jackson is trying to find other ways to get ready to play next to the Eagles’ best defensive player. Here’s what he told reporters on Tuesday:
It’s my job to come in here and adjust to him because he’s been here, he’s the guy. For me, you watch film, you see what he likes to do, you talk to the guys around here. You understand what he likes to do when he rushes and stuff and you [learn] from that.
It certainly can’t hurt for Jackson to glean as much as he can from the tape, but there’s a level of rapport that just can’t be built until the two are on the field together. For now, Jackson is getting used to playing next to Tim Jernigan, who is working with the starters in Cox’s absence.
Eventually, Jackson’s presence could be a huge boost for Cox, who is already one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL. Last month, he seemed excited about the possibility teams won’t be able to shift protections to one player all the time. Double and triple teams have become the norm for Cox in recent seasons.
But Cox in April also cautioned reporters that getting on the same page with a new defensive tackle next to him won’t just come during practices in training camp. There are few live-tackling sessions in camp and sacks are off limits because of red jerseys.
We’re going to spend some time together and it’s nothing that can happen overnight,” Cox said. “It’s things that have to build over the season, him being next to me. Me learning how he plays, him learning how I play certain things. … It’s going to take some time. Some of those things we can pick up in training camp, but most of those things, the important things, I’d say will have first, second, third, fourth game of the season when we get those game reps.
A big difference will be on third downs, when Jackson is expected to stay on the field. In the last couple of seasons, Cox has lined up next to a smaller defensive end — Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham or Michael Bennett — on third downs. Now, he’ll be next to Jackson, who is listed at 290 pounds. That’s going to be a change.
For Jackson, all this is a change. He’s coming to a new defense and a new team. The 29-year-old, who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos before going to Jacksonville, said he likes the vibe in Philly. Everyone is relaxed and having fun, but serious about their work, he said. He also likes Jim Schwartz’s defense.
Early on, returns on signing Jackson are pretty good. But we won’t see his full value until he lines up next to Cox in a game that matters. That will be the pay off, which is why he’s doing everything he can to get ready for that moment.
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