By Mike Wise
Friday, August 5, 2005
Bulbs of sweat formed over Jon Jansen's brow the other afternoon. They eventually morphed into a slow-moving current down his forehead. Some of the perspiration forked around his temples; some of it followed a crevice between his nose and cheeks. Every droplet belonging to the 306-pound man finally met up and went over the falls, off the ledge of Jansen's ruddy chin.
"I'm hot, I'm sweaty, and I've got the best job in America," said Joe Gibbs's starting right tackle.
Jansen clutched his helmet firmly in one hand and began trudging up the hill from practice. He labored toward the locker room. He had the proud gait of a cattle rancher who had fed the last of his heifers.
He surveyed the field and his teammates dispersing around him. "It's just good to be back out here," Jansen said.
What's that saying, "You don't know what you have till it's gone"? That is football to Jon Jansen.
A year ago, the franchise's ironman -- a player who had missed one snap in his NFL career -- went down in excruciating pain. It was one of those freak accidents in the first exhibition game. Jansen planted his left leg with about five minutes left in the first quarter on a short pass play. His left Achilles' tendon was ruptured and his season was over.
An anemic Washington offense was suddenly without its best run-blocker. The corn-fed man from Michigan, who had not missed a game since high school, underwent months of rehabilitation until the foot was deemed ready for contact again. For three months he laid around his home in Purcellville and did almost nothing, including eat.
Jansen's weight dropped to 280 pounds -- 26 pounds lighter than the 306 he carried when he stepped on the scales earlier this week. "After all that sitting, it was just basically time to go back to work," Jansen said. "That's about all I can say without getting myself in hot water with my wife."
He said his wife, Martha, "did a great job in getting me out of the house and stopping me from feeling sorry for myself."
Jansen still has not seen the videotape of the injury, refusing to witness his agony. "It's like the last interception I threw against Philadelphia last year," quipped Patrick Ramsey, his best friend and the team's starting quarterback. "Some things you just don't need to see again."
"It's something that happened, and I'm moving on," Jansen said. "No need to dwell on it at this point."
Looking back, the injury was an omen for Gibbs's return to Washington. Without one of its best run-blockers, the offense nose-dived. By the fourth game, Clinton Portis lashed out at its predictability, saying the Cleveland Browns knew what play the Redskins would run. Wide receivers Laveranues Coles grew so disenchanted with his role that he eventually forced the team to trade him.
Even Jansen got in the act, surmising on an ESPN draft show in April that his team was running a "1992 offense." He clarified himself later, saying he did not mean to be derogatory.
"I saw it on tape and said, 'They might not like that,' " Jansen said. "But all the ESPN people stood around and said, 'No, no, don't worry. It's fine.' The coaches haven't said anything about it, so I'm not going to worry."
There was a time when Jansen and Chris Samuels, a two-time Pro Bowler, were considered the prototype bookends among young offensive linemen. Then came the Steve Spurrier era when the Redskins gave up 81 sacks as the team had a disastrous time protecting Ramsey from blitzing linebackers. After Samuels's less-than-spectacular play last season (he only gave up three sacks) and the inevitability that the Achilles' injury will affect Jansen this season, the perception of the duo as two of the best young tackles in the NFL certainly will be tested. Just as Gibbs needs to show that his teams can score again, Jansen needs to show he can play at an elite level again.
Few members of the organization have seen the failures of the franchise more than Jansen. Taken 37th overall in the second round of the 1999 NFL draft, no current player has more tenure. Jansen has played for four coaches, watched 52 losses, started in 42 of those games and has never felt better.
"I haven't been this healthy since my sophomore year of college," Jansen said. "Everybody says, 'How can he stay healthy that long and get hurt?' I look at it as, God gave me this body and it worked for a long time. The streak finally ended.
"In some ways, it might have added two or three years to my career. When you get an entire year off to repair one body part, your other body parts get their rest."
The Jansens have four dogs -- Rocket, Roscoe, Diesel and Tug. Somehow, neither Roscoe nor Tug sound like they came from dainty papillon or Lhasa apso bloodlines.
He fishes for walleye in his native Michigan, hunts with Ramsey when he has time and essentially has worked and waited a year to get back on the field with his teammates.
Jansen is known in football as a mudder, a guy unafraid to soil his jersey or plant a forearm in the neck of an overzealous defensive lineman. He would much rather move his man forward than drop back to cover his quarterback's blindside. He has been alternately called "Rock" and "Dirtbag," an affectionate term given to all Redskins offensive linemen last season by Joe Bugel, the assistant head coach-offense who long ago came up with "Hogs" for Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby and friends.
In many ways, Jansen is a new millennium hog. A technician at his position, he is about sacrifice, perseverance and moving the chains.
Sounds like some of those guys from 1992, right?