BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals left tackle John Jackson may be hurting and he may be aging, but he's still producing and still burning to play. Which is why he would like to return next year for a 14th NFL season.
"I don't want to go out with a losing season," Jackson said Thursday. "My big thing is I want to go out pretty much the way I came in. A winner.
"I've always said there's a time and a point you have to put a limit on a career," Jackson said. "I feel pretty good right now. I just want to continue to do what I've been doing."
Jackson, the popular Woodward High School grad who has lived up to his reputation as a huge presence in the locker room and the community, would like to do it in his hometown. He's working on a one-year contract and although he has replaced Rod Jones in the starting lineup, Jackson has yet to be approached by the club about an extension. **Bengals President Mike Brown won't discuss the club's plans, but he's admired what Jackson has done since he signed during the first days of training camp.
"He's been a very positive force around here," Brown said. "He's got a great attitude. He was a guy who came in with that type of reputation and he's everything we heard he was."
It took Jackson just a little more than half a season as a Bengal to be named the club's winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, an honor for players who "exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage."
"I was surprised he had never won it in Pittsburgh or San Diego," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling. "He epitomizes what you look for in a football player and leader."
Jackson may have been too brave this past month. In his first start in place of Jones, he helped running back Corey Dillon set the NFL rushing record against the Broncos with 278 yards on Oct. 22 with a ton of solid down-field blocks.
Jackson, who turns 36 the week after the season, joked that he strained his hamstring, "running 60 to 70 yards down field blocking." but it was no laughing matter when he pulled the hamstring the next week in Cleveland and had to leave the game in the second quarter.
He then missed the next game against Baltimore before he re-injured the hamstring last week in Dallas and now Jackson fears he's out three more games.
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"I've never been injury prone, so this gives me more motivation to come back," said Jackson, who missed seven games in his career before this season.
"I've got to take my time on this one and try to get healthy. I've got to let this heal. I usually come back sooner than that, but I'm dealing with tissues and muscles."
The club has to deal with the fact Jones signed a three-year, $9 million extension before this season. Jackson, who signed the richest offensive line deal ever in San Diego two years ago, signed on this year for about $650,000 after the Chargers cut him in a likely cost-cutting move.
Still, Jackson indicated he'd like to keep playing.
"It's a little awkward," said Jackson of the situation with Jones, "because I know the position that he's in. But sometimes you have to put your pride aside for the team and I think that's what he's done."
Jackson is the kind of guy that's been missing on the offensive line since center Darrick Brilz didn't return last season. A long-in-the-tooth-and-even-longer-on-experience veteran.
"John has showed a lot of leadership," said center Rich Braham. "He's been a great player in the NFL. He shows being older doesn't matter. He's a great technician."
Braham remembers his first four seasons in the league when the Bengals had center-guard Bruce Kozerski and tackle Joe Walter with a combined 25 NFL seasons by the time they were done.
"Those guys are set in their ways," Braham said. "They've been been through a lot of success and not being successful, their mindsets are always good."