Jackson, Bengals find each other
By GEOFF HOBSON
March 13, 2006
Posted: 6:20 p.m.
As the Bengals left the field at Paul Brown Stadium following their Wild Card playoff loss to the Steelers, there was no question their defense needed to add tackling, leadership, and seasoning. Which is why head coach Marvin Lewis emerged with Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson at Monday’s PBS news conference as the Bengals’ first free-agent signing of the season.
“As he was coaching us up, we saw he’s been in similar (defenses),” Lewis said of his interview with a guy known as a coach on the field. “It’s going to be an easy transition for him. He’ll be able to uplift us with his play on the field and in the class room. It’s kind of what we were looking for that way.”
No doubt Jackson, an eight-year veteran turning 29 the week training camp starts, is going to be penciled in to start opposite free safety Madieu Williams when the first minicamp convenes in two months. At 6-1, 205 pounds, Jackson has been at the center of the NFL’s top-ranked defense half of the last four seasons and brings five post-season starts.
“Take away a play here and a play there and we’re in the hunt for a championship,” said Jackson of a Bengals defense that allowed 10 scoring plays of least 20 yards in the last eight games. “Hopefully I come in and take away the big runs and big passes, and get us lined up again. That’s the main thing. Get lined up again and play another down of defense.”
It’s believed the Bengals had Jackson rated right with the market’s top safeties: Corey Chavous, Adam Archuleta and Marlon McCree. Although those three got deals in the $3 to $5 million per year range, Jackson’s deal was lower. But it probably included a good sum front-loaded, and he gave them what they needed without inflation.
“We just didn’t fall into this guy,” said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. “We researched him and he researched us. He wanted to be here and he’s one of the things we need.”
Lewis also said it means the Bengals aren’t forced to take a safety early in the draft, “and we can take the best player available.”
As one of the interchangeable safeties Lewis covets, Jackson probably best fit the specs at the top of the market next to McCree. But when the Bengals offered to go to $3 million per year and McCree still wanted $3.2 million, the Bengals thought they could get pretty much the same thing from Jackson or Lawyer Milloy at a better value. Milloy’s age probably hurt him (32), but his leadership and toughness were also valued by the Bengals.
Lewis likes Jackson’s experience in the Buccaneers’ fabled “Tampa 2,” defense. Not only has the deep zone been successful, but Jackson had to both cover and tackle in it. But he didn’t blitz as much as he says the Bengals plan to do with him.
“He’s a very good tackler. A great tackler,” said Lewis of one of the items that irked him the most about last year’s defense. “He’s got great fits inserting in the running game. He’s used to playing lot of deep field, half field coverage, the things that safeties do in the NFL. He’s played at a high level on very good defense.”
The move means that Kim Herring, a free-agent safety signed in 2004, and his $1.2 million salary could be on the bubble after being able to play just 12 games in two injury-plagued seasons in Cincinnati.
Jackson becomes the first Super Bowl MVP to play for the Bengals, bringing along the trophy he won three years ago when his two interceptions helped the Buccaneers beat the Raiders.
After that season, he had a one-year hitch in free agency in Arizona when he left the NFL’s top ranked defense and went to a unit that finished 26th in 2003. The he went back to a Bucs defense that fell to fifth that same season and helped get it back to No. 1 in 2004.
He has no qualms now leaving the No. 5 defense for the 28th.
“ I felt if I just go to a sorry defense like Arizona, I can make it better by myself,” Jackson said. “I found out you can’t do that. It takes a core of guys to be good. I learned from that. What I see here is a core of young guys and a lot of vets who have the same goal. To try and be the best defense. That’s what I want to be a part of.”
Jackson is particularly impressed with Bengals cornerbacks, Tory James and Deltha O’Neal.
“Our corners (in Tampa Bay) had the label of being (zone) corners, but these guys can play man-to-man. I know both of them have (eight) interception seasons, so I’ve got great guys on the outside. If they force it outside, I feel like I can take care of the inside.”
The Jackson news conference came amid Bengals backup quarterback Jon Kitna’s visit to the Jets on Monday with a signing looming since New York has yet to trade for the Redskins’ Patrick Ramsey.
The Rams' Jamie Martin is making his first visit of free agency Tuesday to Cincinnati and maybe his last as the Bengals try to sign a backup quarterback by the end of the first week of free agency.
"They sounded pretty motivated. They want to get a guy in there quicly to get the system down," said Tom Mills, Martin's agent.
But that hasn't stopped the Bengals from scouring the halls of the NFL. Various reports have them working out former Louisville and Ravens quarterback Chris Redman on Monday. Redman, a third-round pick in the 2000 draft, has been saddled with a variety of injuries and is trying to get back into the league at age 28.