Inside the Washington Redskins' huddle, tackle Jon Jansen assumes the role of bully, star pupil and class clown, sometimes all at once. He transitions characters seamlessly, alternately chiding a teammate for not displaying the requisite intensity and joking to liven up a pensive offense, all the while shouting calls to the rest of the linemen, keeping everyone aware of the down and distance and dissecting defensive tendencies they may face on the ensuing snap.
Jansen, 29, considers the chatter part of his job, relishing the leadership role as the longest serving member of the organization. It comes naturally, and always has. Even if he wanted to remain an anonymous offensive lineman, his personality simply would not allow for it. It's part of the package of intangibles that makes Jansen among the most important individuals on the team and helps explain the gaping void left when he suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury in the opening game of the 2004 preseason. Without him, the Redskins failed to run block or pass protect nearly as well as they hoped to and committed a litany of procedural penalties.
Saturday's preseason game in Carolina will be Jansen's first game since last August, when he was hurt for the first time in his professional or collegiate career. The impact of his presence alone can not be overlooked. Jansen's 6-foot-6, 306-pound frame cuts an imposing figure for opponents -- "He gives us a confident swagger just by being back," running back Clinton Portis said -- but perhaps just as important, his presence makes his teammates feel more inspired, energized, educated or at ease, depending on the situation.
"You need a gang leader to grab somebody by the throat and smack them around," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense, "and Jon Jansen is not opposed to doing that. Those are the kinds of guys you love, and our team rallies around him. It's a very loose-knit group, and I think he brings them all together. We have a guy with that personality on the offense again now, and I think you need that on a football team. It's a long, drawn out season, and if you can't crack a smile or tell a funny joke every now and then, then you've got some problems."
While Jansen's return is universally welcomed at Redskins Park, no one is more excited than starting quarterback Patrick Ramsey. Pressure for the 26-year-old passer to succeed is immense, and having his best friend and bookend tackle back on the field instills immediate comfort. When Ramsey gets too pumped up or threatens to succumb to adrenaline, Jansen, the 37th selection in the 1999 draft, is the one who reins him back in.
"He keeps me in check when I get really excited," Ramsey said. "When things are going really well and I'm trying to fire guys up, he's always making little jabs. If I get rah-rah or start saying, 'Hey, we need this; we need that,' He'll say, 'Hey, QB, just call the play.' It's fun. It's fun to have him back out there.
"It was a quieter huddle without him in a variety of ways. Not that Jon is a real rah-rah kind of guy -- he doesn't blow a lot of smoke -- but he's always fun to have around. He keeps people loose out there, and having him back will certainly help us."
Jansen has been this way for as long as he can remember, learning to read his teammates and discerning which type of stimuli they best respond. He has never been shy about sharing his thoughts and ideas but says he knows when to back off, and how hard to push.
"It's kind of always been a part of my game," he said. "I see my responsibility as not only to get myself going and -- and a lot of this is me getting myself going -- but also getting the other guys going, and when you are fired up and guys see you playing hard and see you acting on it, it makes it easier for them to act on it, too.
"Football is a game of emotion and momentum, and sometimes for whatever reason guys need a little boost here and there. You get tired, things get tough, and it's nice to know that there's somebody else who is fighting through it, too. And I just try to let the guys know that I'm going to be fighting, and I expect them to be fighting with me."
His on-field persona -- a burly bear of a man who thrives on physical contact -- is an extension of Bugel, a no-nonsense offensive line guru who dubbed this collection of blockers "the Dirtbags" after looking at Jansen's dirt and grass-stained uniform after a practice last year. "You'd like to have him in foxhole with you if you're getting in a fight," Gibbs said of Jansen, "and I particularly like the fact that you've got to look way up there to see him." As such, Jansen expresses the stark realities in the huddle Bugel would love to deliver himself, but lack resonance when screamed from the sideline.
"It's not always a comfortable situation," Jansen explained, "but sometimes those things have to be said."
Jansen's running commentary on the game is less controversial. He is constantly reading the defense, predicting changes in formation and anticipating where and when an opponent might blitz. "Jon's always lurking and looking for safeties and corners," Portis said. He helps the center anchor the line and knows exactly who is supposed to be where. If the unit struggles -- as it has the past two seasons -- Jansen takes it personally, and he will not be happy unless the Redskins are pounding opponents at the line of scrimmage and winning games."
"You look up to a guy like that," third-year guard Derrick Dockery said, "and we missed him tremendously last year. On the line, the chemistry wasn't there sometimes, and just to have him back is a great thing for the whole offense and the team. He's a leader in all he does -- in workouts, on the field, off the field, in the classroom studying film. He makes tremendous calls, and he helps the center out a lot. He's one of the smartest guys I've ever been around. He does all the things it takes to be a great one, and that's what I like about him."