BY GEOFF HOBSON, GEORGETOWN, Ky.
During John Jackson's first day as a Bengal today, the two happiest guys at training camp besides Jackson himself were the offensive tackles he'll play behind. Rod Jones on the left and Willie Anderson on the right. They meet in the middle when it comes to the Jackson signing:
Anderson: "I'm very happy because it means I'm staying at right tackle no matter what happens. I haven't taken a snap on the left side in two years and it's hard if you have to go back and forth. Plus, it's great insurance for Rod. You're talking about a guy who's played in many playoff games and his reputation as a quality guy already comes before him."
Jones: "I'm looking forward to it. To have a 13-year vet around? Are you kidding? I'm going to ask him everything. We haven't had a veteran on the line like that since Joe Walter (cut in 1997) was here."
As for Jackson, he looked mighty pleased for a man who had just gone through a tortuous physical exam this morning and then met the media this afternoon bathed in the sweat of post-practice sprints. Jackson, the Woodward High School grad, joins Taft High School's Vaughn Booker and Mount Healthy's Rodney Heath as local high school products, and it meant a lot to him a week after he had decided to retire.
The Bengals told him they were no longer interested and he figured that was it. Even though he had a few offers to start, he wanted to go where a 35-year-old could be comfortable. When the Bengals called back after cutting Carl Pickens last week offering one year for about $650,000, Jackson said, "I was almost in shock."
"It felt real funny," said Jackson of the moment he was handed the Bengals' striped helmet. "And the stripes down the side (of the pants). It was just a different experience today."
It's also a different experience for the Bengals, who have been dogged by locker room chemistry problems. How ironic is it that when they released Pickens _ thought to be a locker room problem_ it made room for one of the game's elder statesmen?
"Whatever this organization needs me to do," Jackson said, "that's what I'll do. . .I'm here to help this club and the way I'm going to do that is talk to the young guys and just let them understand that to win it takes a little extra."
He even said the right thing about a physical that left him sore as the Bengals checked out his sprained back from last season: "I know it's a risk taking me at this age and I understand that."
Anderson knows Jackson has started 13 playoff games, including Super Bowl XXX with Pittsburgh. But he also knew as much about Jackson's terrific off-field reputation, where he donated money for a new sports facility at his alma mater of Eastern Kentucky and runs the John and Joan Jackson Foundation with his wife that supports the Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and other charities.
"Experience on and off the field," said Jackson, when asked what he brings to the table. "There's been a lot of ups and down in this league and you have to act a certain way."
He's backing up Jones on the left side and he wanted to make it clear to Jones instantly that he was not there to take his job.
"He told me we're teammates and that he'll help," Jones said. "I've been watching him on film when he played for Pittsburgh and San Diego, trying to pick up stuff to help my game. Now I've got him right here."
"He told me he couldn't wait until I got on the field," Jackson said. "I told him I could."
Jackson is the antithesis of the type of player offensive line coach Paul Alexander has cultivated since 1995. Alexander has sought big mashers, but Jackson is a lean and smooth 6-foot-6, 300-pound technician. It didn't take long before he and Jones were talking about pass sets, dropping and hand placements as they watched the backup linemen work.
Jackson was looking for No. 65, but that's being worn for the moment by college free agent defensive tackle Dave Fleischhauer. Jackson was content to wear 67.
They wouldn't let him through the camp gate when he showed up with agent Richard Katz and Katz's son Scott. That helped make him late for practice. But after a dozen years and an aborted retirement, Jackson didn't care.
You never do when you come home.