There wasn't a whole lot of consistency from start to finish on offense for the Bills in 2008, but one player that brought his 'A' game every week was running back Fred Jackson. With offensive coordinator Turk Schonert expanding his role in the Buffalo offense Jackson took the opportunity and literally ran with it.
Still an exclusive rights free agent the Bills can tender Jackson a qualifying offer and have him at a relatively affordable rate for 2009. But in light of the impact he made on offense this season, he certainly looks like a player worth investing in long term.
Not surprisingly, the loyal Jackson would be agreeable to such an arrangement.
"Definitely," Jackson said. "I have always wanted to spend my career with one team. I didn't want to be one of those guys that travel from team to team. That would be something that I would definitely be open to. I want to finish my career in Buffalo and if they offer me a long term deal we'll see where that goes. Hopefully that's the case."
Jackson averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 2008, rushing for 571 yards while contributing three touchdowns. He was also fourth on the team in receptions and fifth in receiving yards. The former NFL Europe star also helped return punts and kickoffs.
For Jackson it was a season to be proud of at least on an individual basis.
"Just being able to step up when I was called upon," said Jackson. "That's what I'm more proud of than anything. I think I was able to make some plays when we needed some plays to be made. Just having the faith of all the players and the coaches to call those plays when they needed me to make them."
Whether it was his grinding 11-yard touchdown run to give the Bills a 27-24 lead late against the Jets in the Meadowlands, or his 65-yard catch and run to set up a go-ahead touchdown against the Broncos or stepping in for an injured Marshawn Lynch in the season finale and giving the Bills 136 yards on the ground, Jackson delivered.
"Going into OTAs last year I felt like I was going to be a part of the offense and I think I was a factor in the offense this year," he said. "So I felt I was able to showcase myself."
Jackson knew the key to getting on the field more in 2008 than he did the previous season was to expand and hone the variety of skills he possessed.
"I think it had a huge role in it," said Jackson of his versatility. "I think just being out there the more that I was able to do it kind of helped create some mismatches in the defenses and I just kind of wanted to improve in as many areas as possible. So I think being able to catch the ball out of the backfield and being able to run some routes got me on the field more than I would have been if I wasn't able to do those things."
Jackson worked long and hard on his route running leading up to the 2008 campaign. But he also put the time in with respect to the playbook knowing all the potential roles he'd be playing this past season.
"Just being able to go out and switch roles, whether it was running routes coming out of the backfield or lining up as a receiver," said Jackson. "That was something I spent a lot of time on and just being able to be out there on third downs and picking up blitzes is one of the most improved areas I had this past season. I spent a lot of time working on that with Coach Studesville. It was something that showed up this year. They had a lot of faith in me when I would go out on third downs and be responsible for a lot of blitz pickups."
As the year went on Jackson's performance not only impressed his coaches and teammates, but coaches and players from other teams as well. And as the season wound down Buffalo's number two back was getting respect from his opponents when the games were over.
"One of the biggest compliments I got was from Takeo Spikes after we played them in the 49ers game," said Jackson. "He made a point to come up to me after the game and said, 'Fred I just want to let you know that you're getting a lot of respect around the league so just keep doing what you do.' Mario Haggan told me that Denver spent time in their defensive rooms going over film and that they were watching as much tape on me as much as they did for Marshawn. It was one of those things that I prided myself on and I wanted to make sure that defenses had to key on me when I came in the game and they had to work and prepare for me as much as I had to prepare for them."
Mission accomplished. And coming off a strong 2008 Jackson's role on offense could be in line for another expansion come 2009.
"We'll see what happens next year if I have kind of the same role or a more prominent role in the offense," he said. "We'll kind of see what happens."
And Bills fans are also eager to see what happens concerning Jackson's future beyond 2009 with respect to a contract extension.
"We'll see what they're thinking," said Jackson. "Hopefully we can reach some kind of a deal that has me here long term."