Ed Thompson: As you enter your fourth NFL season, let’s talk about the most exciting points and some of the challenging points of your career since joining the Cleveland Browns.
D'Qwell Jackson: I would have to say that one of the most challenging points of being in this organization, so far, is obvious to everyone -- we haven’t put up the amount of wins that we’ve wanted in the past. We’ve had a good group of guys ever since I’ve been in the organization, but it’s just been an up-and-down road. We have a lot of expectations, but we don’t always play to those expectations. With that said, Coach Mangini has brought a smart, talented coaching staff in here. From day one, I’ve noticed a difference. He’s brought a different mindset here, a different accountability towards players and towards coaches and it’s rubbing off on all of us.
Thompson: D’Qwell, as you’ve been getting familiar with the new play book, are there any new twists in there that you’re excited about? Do you think you’re going to continue to be used in this defense in the way that has helped you to be so effective in the past?
D’Qwell: Oh yeah, I’m excited about everything! We have a new defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, who is a proven guy. I followed him when he was at Oakland. Kirk Morrison, who I met this past offseason, told me nothing but good things about Coach Ryan. The coaching staff that we have, it’s a different way of learning and it’s great. They want to teach us to look at the game the way a coach does so we can apply it to the field. When it comes down to it, it’s simple for me. I go get the guy with the ball. You know, that’s what it comes down to. Football is football in my eyes. It doesn’t matter what type of scheme it is, in this system, we want to dictate the course of the game. We want to be ahead, and that’s what we’re playing for is to be ahead, to get after people and just play smart football.
Thompson: You were sort of an anomaly, a rookie who came out of college and adapted very quickly, finishing second on the team in tackles. You don’t see that happen often, even from a first or second round pick. Why do you think you were able to make the switch to the pro level so rapidly?
Jackson: I had good mentors around me like Andra Davis, who’s no longer with us, and linebacker Chaun Thompson, who plays for the Houston Texans right now. From day one, those guys embraced me. Whatever they preached, I listened to them. Whether it was the way they prepared for the game, to prepping their body, to getting massages, seeing the chiropractor, to eating right, I listened to them. That’s what kind of matured me. When I came into the league, these guys were five, six years into the league and I wanted to get to that point. Now that I’m going into year four, I realize every year is a blessing. Every year that you go out, you have to prove yourself all over again. Every year, you don’t know whether or not you’re going to come out of the season healthy. I think the main reason I adapted so well, because I’m not the biggest guy on the field, is that I pride myself on being the most fundamentally-sound guy out there and the best guy out there. More specifically, how I study, how I prepare for the game, and just knowing my opponent.
Thompson: In a typical week during the season, what do you put yourself though in terms of studying to get yourself ready?
Jackson: It’ll start Monday with getting the film, then just going through and watching the game, especially watching our conference opponents. Normal preparation is just to study as much as I can and find an edge on the guy, try to find any tips or anything that could give away a play, a pull or whatever it may be. Also just knowing the tendency of an offense – what do they do on a 3rd-and-10, what do they do when they’re backed up -- just knowing different situational calls and understanding the offensive coordinator.
Thompson: One thing that jumped out at me as I looked down through your stats last year is your consistency. I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but out of those 154 tackles you made, 82 were in the first half and 72 were in the second half. So you’re not a guy who starts fast or slow. You’re that guy that the team can count on to give a full 60 minutes of play. Were you aware that you put that type of performance out there?
Jackson: No, no clue at all! That’s one thing I’ll give to my uncle, Charles. I’ve been playing since I was about seven years old. He always preached that everybody is good at the beginning of the game. One thing I do pride myself on is the conditioning part of it — practice fast, and play faster. In the course of a game you have everything weighing on you. You've got the crowd noise, the situation, you're banged up, you're tired but that's when the true guys arrive at the top. Every guy in this league, at least in my eyes, tries to prepare to be that top guy — not at the beginning of the game, but when your team needs it the most and when you're dead tired.
Thompson: You’ve only had a short amount of time to take a look at the new rookies in Cleveland, but give me a couple of initial impressions of any guys who may have raised your eyebrows a little bit.
Jackson: It’s hard to point any of them out because all these rookies are working hard. This is one class where every guy is really out there busting his tail to make this team, and that’s what we need. It’s a lot of competition out here, there is no set first team. Everybody has been mixed with first, second team, third team. So it’s a good mix to show the rookies that if you’re making plays, you’re going to play. It’s hard for me to pinpoint one player, but a lot of them are solid, smart football players. That’s what Coach Mangini stands for, and that’s what is going to be the difference hopefully this upcoming season.
Thompson: Let’s shift gears to a player who was a rookie for a division opponent last year, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. Obviously, it was still a learning year for him, but you were on the opposite side of the ball working against him twice last season. What did you see?
Jackson: The guy was poised. You know, for any guy coming in as a rookie, it’s tough -- just being on your own for the first time, signing a new contract, and having to deal with grown-up responsibilities. It’s tough enough for any rookie coming into the league as starter, but he played quarterback. So, it was his show to lose and win. The guy showed unbelievable poise back there. They had a heck of a running game and they played to their defense. But at the end of the day, they made the playoffs and Flacco was there. He stood strong and those guys rallied behind him. My hat goes off to him. He was a great talent last year and he’s only going to get better.
Thompson: D’Qwell, I know as you face more players through the years, you get to the point where there are a couple of guys around the league that you know when you’re coming up against that guy, it’s going to be an epic battle. Anybody come to mind from your adventures so far?
Jackson: The guys that I’ve been playing have been tremendous athletes and tremendous competitors. I can’t pinpoint one player. My rookie year, it was tough. I was still learning the position and I still am. The hardest thing for a linebacker is to get off blocks -- shed, avoid and get off blocks. At the end of the day, all of them are much stronger than you are and they’re much bigger than you are. So I don’t have one particular person who comes to mind because I feel like, hey, you need to be worried about me when I’m on the field. Don’t get me wrong, all the offensive linemen are smart and tough guys. But at the end of the day, it’s about what I’m doing out there. I’m trying to be the best when I step on the field.
Follow Ed Thompson on Twitter
Click here for more coverage of your favorite NFL team.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com.