Fred Jackson is a terrific football player ... but he sure has lousy timing.
The Bills’ feature running back was in the midst of a career campaign last season.
Heading into Game 10 at Miami, he led the NFL in 100-yard games (six) and his 900-plus rushing yards and over 1,300 from scrimmage were among the league leaders.
But against the Dolphins, Jackson took a shot to his lower right leg, fracturing his fibula.
The loss of his performance and leadership severely affected the Bills, whose attention-getting 5-2 start devolved into a 6-10 finish.
Yet it was Jackson who was hurt most, both physically and financially.
With only one more year remaining on a 4-year, $7.5 million contract which turned out to be a bargain for the Bills, he was enjoying a season that would virtually assure him of a generous extension.
Then came the campaign-ending injury.
Had Jackson stayed healthy, extrapolating his numbers over a 16-game season, he would have rushed for 1,495 yards. Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew won the title with 1,606 yards, but Ray Rice was second with 1,364.
Combining rushing and receiving yards, Jackson’s full-season total projected to 2,211 ... Baltimore’s Ray Rice claimed the honor with 2,068.
No matter, those impressive numbers lost their meaning and much of their bargaining value as Jackson suddenly became a 31-year-old running back coming off an injury.
And he talked about that Thursday morning after joining Bills’ teammates Rian Lindell (related story this page), Arthur Moats and Michael Jasper at East View Elementary, celebrating its selection as an NFL PLAY 60 Super School.
DID HE ever say “Why me?” after the injury.
“I think you have to ... it was tough ... I was having the best season of my career,” Jackson admitted. “It definitely hurt me to go out the way I did. But it’s also motivation, something for me to feed off of when I come back this year.”
And he’ll be ready.
“I feel great,” said the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Jackson. “I got the OK about a month ago. I went in, they checked the x-rays, and I’m completely healthy.
“I’ve been training a little bit and I’m ready to go. I’ve got to pace myself because I missed a lot of football last season, but I definitely have that itch to get back out there.”
Before that happens, though, there’s the matter of that contract extension.
“They’ve got a lot of things coming as far as free agency approaching and guys in the last year of their contracts (and about to be free agents on March 13),” he said. “I had a good talk with Buddy (Nix, general manager) and he said they’ve got some things to take care of and we’ll approach (Jackson’s contract) sometime this offseason before camp.
“We’ll see what happens, but I have faith in them.”
HOWEVER, Jackson’s role could change.
Coach Chan Gailey envisions him splitting time with former No. 1 draft choice C.J. Spiller.
“I have to do what the coach wants but any player in the National Football League wants to be on the field as much as possible,” Jackson conceded. “(Spiller’s) going to be a playmaker for us and we need him to do that. But I’m going to do whatever I can to stay on the field.
“I feel like when I’m out there I need to be an essential part of what we do and that’s why I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”
As for his age, the veteran of two seasons in the United Indoor Football League plus one in NFL Europe, is dismissive.
“Last year was the first time that I started a complete season,” he pointed out. “You’re gonna hear, ‘He’s 31, coming off an injury, what can he do?’ But that’s just another challenge for me, to show what I’m capable of doing and I’m looking forward to it.”
Indeed, in his five seasons with the Bills, Jackson has averaged a shade under 200 touches (carries and receptions), a reasonable workload in the NFL.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there and picking up right where I left off,” he said. “There’s a lot of work yet to be done.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)