Since he was allocated to NFL Europe by the Bills in 2006, Fred Jackson has had to prove himself with results. He never had the benefit of playing for a high profile college program or being touted as a premier talent. Jackson has been forced to showcase his talent on the field year in and year out to convince two different Buffalo coaching staffs that he was a player worthy of starting at running back.
Now that he's done that each of the last two seasons it stands to reason that Jackson goes into the 2011 campaign with his best opportunity to be Buffalo's main ball carrier for a full 16-game slate for the first time in his career.
In 2009 Jackson was the starter coming out of training camp be default as Marshawn Lynch served a league-imposed three game suspension. All Jackson did was log the fourth best two-game all-purpose yardage total to start a season in team history with 337, including a 163-yard rushing day against Tampa Bay.
Though Lynch returned and re-assumed the starting role by Week 5 that season, Jackson's production could not be ignored by then interim head coach Perry Fewell. He re-inserted him into the starting lineup as soon as he assumed head coaching duties in Week 10 that year.
By season's end, Jackson became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and accumulate 1,000 kick return yards in a single season. He also became just the sixth player in NFL history to compile more than 2,500 all-purpose yards in a single season as his 2,516 all-purpose yards led the NFL in 2009.
Despite all of that, Jackson had to prove to a new coaching staff that he was capable of manning the starting role in 2010. An injury in the preseason opener however, kept that opportunity from taking shape. Though he was healthy to start the season opener, he only carried the ball four times. Lynch would then start the next three games.
"We knew he was capable of being one of those (starter) type of guys," said Bills offensive coordinator/running backs coach Curtis Modkins. "The injury was unfortunate because he didn't get reps in our system, but we had studied him from the season before on tape. We knew what he was capable of doing."
Still it wasn't until Lynch was traded to Seattle that the door again opened for Jackson to take on the starting role, which happened in Week 5. Jackson averaged 6.1 per carry against the Jaguars, but only carried the ball 12 times.
Jackson wasn't really the full-time featured back until Week 7 following the Bills bye week. Despite a reduced workload, the Coe College product almost posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He finished with 927 rushing yards while adding 31 receptions and a single-season career-high seven touchdowns.
Now with a year invested under head coach Chan Gailey and his offensive staff Jackson appears to have the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to be the true incumbent starter at running back heading into 2011.
Provided he stays healthy through the preseason along with the anticipation of an improved offensive line, Jackson's rushing production this fall could very well be his best to date.