Before the snap, he stands with a low center of gravity, his knees bent and his pads out with a forward lean that foreshadows his aggressive nature. At the snap, he rapidly moves laterally, covering real estate while simultaneously peeking in and out of the gaps created by the mammoth blockers in front of him to find the runner. In an area concentrated with chaos, he miraculously avoids being blocked and takes down the ball carrier.

It’s just another game-saving tackle for D’Qwell Jackson. But to him it’s much more because, once upon a time, he wasn’t sure he was going to be there.

Following pectoral injuries in successive years, the Cleveland Browns linebacker doubted that he’d ever play again, thinking, along with many others, that his career was nearing it’s end, but he never completely submitted to the misery. Instead, he spent hours upon hours in an odd-sounding, air pumping hyperbaric chamber that gave him the strength to get back out on the field with his teammates, where the soft spoken 28-year-old was most comfortable.

He was back out on the field in Week 1 of the 2011 season against the Cincinnati Bengals after missing 26 straight games, and he left fans mesmerized with an inspiring performance that Pro Football Focus argued was the best of his season. He didn’t miss a beat during his stay away from the game as he pointed out the Bengals’ offensive tendencies before the snap, ran sideline-to-sideline, and was always around the ball after the snap.

Early into the second quarter against the Bengals was a fine display of the latter, when Jackson lined up behind the shaded 3-technique under tackle before the snap. He was in his usual stance, and he had the the aforementioned low center of gravity.

Jackson in his usual stance.

At the snap, Andy Dalton tossed the ball to the ball carrier, who ran left. Jackson ran laterally, chasing down the line of scrimmage with caution and discipline to avoid leaving a potential cutback lane for the runner, a mistake made by so many other linebackers. He ran a couple of yards off the line of scrimmage, which helped him avoid blocks (note: he doesn’t always do this; he does well enough downhill too) before meeting the runner outside the numbers…

Jackson runs laterally after the ball carrier.

This next image depicts one of my favorite parts of Jackson’s game: his tackling. He just doesn’t miss a lot of tackles, and that’s because of his sublime form.

As he comes down the line of scrimmage, he closes the gap between himself and the ball carrier and squares up his shoulders.That essentially makes it a one-on-one battle between Jackson and the ball carrier, an ideal situation for any linebacker. The Bengals’ runner has reached a dead end because of Jackson and the backside pursuit of his teammates, and he’s finally tackled for a short gain.

Squaring up for the tackle.

As you can see, Jackson is often around the ball and is smart while doing it.

He was the same kind of player at the University of Maryland, too. He’d somehow avoid getting mauled by offensive lineman even when they got their hands on him, and he’d slip off and get involved in a play because of his pad level. He was smart, instinctive, and could make plays in coverage even if it didn’t always look like he would because he knew his way through the trenches.

Jackson isn’t flashy, but I can’t help but notice him when I’m watching the Browns defense. He’s instinctive, as he’s constantly around the ball even when he appears to be out of the play, which was the case when he caught his single interception of the season against the Houston Texans. Moreover, he’s a very strong, soft spoken individual who’s one of the leaders of his team, which is fitting considering the odds he’s overcome over the last couple of years.

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