Asa Jackson's NFL career has had its share of detours, but he appears to be back on course with the Ravens once again.
Jackson's role in 2015 isn't quite what he envisioned, but after facing two lengthy suspensions earlier in his career, being cut this summer, signing elsewhere, cut again, and then rejoining the Ravens via the practice squad, Jackson said he's grateful to be back with the organization that took "a 5-10 kid from Sacramento, California, 180 pounds, and made my dream come true, drafting me four years ago."
When training camp began in July, Jackson was one of the favorites to land the return specialist job. But by the end of camp, Jackson not only hadn't won that job, he hadn't won any job; after struggling at cornerback and with fumbles as a returner, Jackson was among the final cuts when the roster was trimmed to 53 players.
Jackson briefly joined the New York Giants, but he was cut two days later and landed back on the Ravens practice squad.
After being promoted to the active roster Oct.13, Jackson has evolved into a key special teams player, just not in the manner he expected.
With Jeremy Ross holding down the punt return job and Raheem Mostert handling kick returns last week, Jackson has been called on to bring pressure on kickers. And he's responded, with two blocked kicks in the past two weeks. He blocked a punt at Arizona and then exploded off the edge to block an extra-point try by the Chargers.
Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said this week that Jackson is "anxious to be the returner again, but in the meantime, he’s doing everything else at a very high level. ... While he’s not the returner, he’s making the most of every opportunity he has in other areas, and I’m really excited about Asa in that regard.”
Jackson admitted he had some "mixed feelings" after being let go by the Ravens at the end of training camp. This was, after all, the organization that drafted the undersized Jackson out of Cal-Poly in the fifth round in 2012, then stuck with him through two suspensions for violations of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He was suspended for the final four games of the 2012 season and then the first eight games of the 2013 season.
"I just kept faith," he said. "That's something that over the last two or three years I've really been realizing. Just keeping faith, and keep moving forward, and not worrying about the things I can't control."
Jackson said seeing Steve Smith go down with an Achilles injury also added perspective during this turbulent season.
"You can be a 16-year vet and one play and it could be over," Jackson said. "So taking that to heart, when I have gotten my opportunity, (I'm) really trying to take full, 100 percent advantage of it.
"This experience of this season has really taught me a lot in terms of being mentally tough, and just that this game really is a blessing, and I should play it like that every single play. That's what I'm trying to do."
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