Jon Jansen wore a white cut-off practice jersey, burgundy shorts and a stubble as the 6-foot-6, 306-pounder trudged off the field following yesterday's practice at Redskins Park. The right tackle's massive arms were dirtied from spending a few minutes in the 90-minute session fending off defenders pursuing quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey.
Jansen's appearance was little different from the one he had in the Washington Redskins' first minicamp in May: His grim exterior, soiled jersey and blue-collar approach spurred assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel to concoct a nickname for the offensive linemen: Dirtbags.
"Take a look at Jon Jansen," explained Bugel, who created the "Hogs" moniker for his famed line during the 1980s because of the unit's girth. "Tell me what you see."
Considered one of the best right tackles not named to the Pro Bowl, Jansen has played without the fanfare of other tackles such as teammate Chris Samuels (two Pro Bowls). Jansen, 28, has remained relatively anonymous despite starting every game since joining the NFL in 1999.
However, the University of Michigan product should be in more of a spotlight beginning Monday when the Redskins face the Denver Broncos in Canton, Ohio. Brunell is scheduled to start in the Hall of Fame game, which kicks off the NFL preseason. And Jansen, who has accepted the title of Dirtbag No. 1, will be protecting a left-handed quarterback -- thus, his blind side -- for the first time in his NFL career. The scrutiny will remain if Brunell wins the quarterback competition over third-year quarterback Ramsey, a right-hander. (Brunell is considered the favorite partly because of his 11 NFL seasons.)
"The pressure is on Jansen, at least when I'm in the game," Brunell said yesterday, "considering that I don't have eyes behind me and don't know when there's pressure."
Washington's offensive line won't alter its blocking schemes regardless of who is under center, and Jansen won't change his methods or technique against pass rushers such as Michael Strahan of the New York Giants. Jansen, who isn't as athletically gifted as Samuels, is a stellar technician, especially in using his hands and exploiting angles. A better run-blocker than pass-blocker, Jansen will face the most scrutiny in his NFL career. So what's the difference in blocking for a lefty?
"The difference is if I get beat bad, it's going to hurt a lot more," Jansen said yesterday, laughing heartily. "I don't change how I block just because there's a left-handed quarterback. I have to keep my man three, four or five or six yards off the quarterback just the same as if it was Patrick back there."
After cornerback Champ Bailey was sent to Denver in the trade for running back Clinton Portis, Jansen became the longest-tenured Redskins player at five seasons. Jansen has been forced to adapt to four head coaches while providing stability in the lineup.
Jansen hasn't missed a game since graduating from Clawson High, north of Detroit. In college, Jansen started 50 consecutive games, including the national championship game while garnering the nickname "Rock." During his 48th consecutive start in a game against Ohio State, Jansen's leg was caught beneath then Wolverines quarterback Tom Brady. However, Jansen made it back to the lineup to continue his streak.
Since being selected early in the second round of the NFL draft (37th overall), Jansen has started 82 consecutive games, including two playoff games. (The NFL record for non-kickers is Bruce Matthews's 296 games.)
Even more impressive, Jansen has missed only one offensive play. In Jansen's second NFL game, the Redskins were on their way to a 50-21 romp over the New York Giants in the fourth quarter. Then-offensive line coach Russ Grimm, a former Hog, removed Jansen for one snap before reinserting him. Afterward, veteran left tackle Andy Heck -- Samuels's predecessor -- admonished Jansen for not resisting.
"I wish I could say I played every play," Jansen said yesterday.
Although he is annually mentioned as a Pro Bowl possibility, Jansen hasn't garnered many public accolades. Pro Bowlers are elected through voting by fans, coaches and players, and popularity is a factor. Samuels, the third overall pick in the 2000 draft, was a Pro Bowler in 2001 and '02.
"I think he definitely deserves more praise than what he gets," Samuels said of Jansen. "He's just a dirtbag. He's into every play, going hard, hustling. He's just a leader on this team."
"He's a very physical player, very talented, aggressive, great in the locker room, hard worker," said Brunell, before adding, "Other than that, I don't think he's very good."
Last season, Jansen finally received headlines with Samuels, but it was for being tackles on a team that allowed an average of almost three sacks. On a line plagued by false starts, the pair drew plenty of criticism. ("I didn't feel under the radar last year," Jansen said.) But toward the second half of the season, Washington's line received vindication when coach Steve Spurrier altered his offensive schemes to maximize blocking. Suddenly, when the offensive linemen no longer looked like matadors, the sacks diminished.
"We knew at that time that sooner or later, the truth always shines," Jansen said.
The coaching staff believed that Jansen had one of his better NFL seasons. But when the 2003 Pro Bowlers were named, Jansen was snubbed while Samuels was named a third alternate. Jansen says that early in his career, he became angry at being overlooked in the Pro Bowl but no more.
"Obviously, that would be nice," Jansen said, "but I don't stay awake at night thinking about it."
Jansen's chances at his first Pro Bowl should be bolstered playing in a run-oriented system geared toward Portis. Jansen is also excited about playing under Bugel, considered one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL history.
If Brunell starts, Jansen will certainly be in position to earn more accolades, but it would also mean Ramsey, Jansen's best friend, would lose his starting job. When Jansen is asked if he is conflicted, the tackle shows the savvy of a veteran in the nation's capital. "I'm biased to winning," Jansen said.
Ramsey believes that Jansen is being genuine.
"I want that for him," Ramsey said of the Pro Bowl. "Obviously, one of his goals is to make the Pro Bowl, but Jon is more interested in our team doing well than himself."