A big smile spread across Paris Jackson’s face this week, as he stopped to speak with some spectators gathered to watch a B.C. Lions practice.
A few minutes later, that grin faded into a frown when the Lions receiver was asked about a CFL season where he has yet to catch a pass.
“Frustrating, long,” Jackson said shaking his head. “I just don’t know where I fit in.
“At the same time, it’s making me mentally stronger. It makes me understand football can be taken away.”
While concentrating on this season, Jackson does wonder about his future with the Lions.
“It’s been going through my mind,” he said after the Lions (2-6) practised for their game Friday against the Toronto Argonauts (2-6) at Rogers Centre. “That’s the off-season. I can’t worry about that now.”
The 31-year-old Vancouver native has enjoyed a starring role with the Lions for nine seasons. He’s caught 60 or more passes each of the last four years and twice been over 1,000 yards.
But this year, Jackson has gone from being a cog in the offence to a spare part. He started the season bothered by a knee injury but claims he’s 100-per-cent healthy.
“I’m out here running around,” Jackson said. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m out here trying to show them I can fly around and make plays.”
When he’s played, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver has mostly been used as a blocker. The only pass sent his way sailed over his head.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time I am still confident in my ability,” Jackson said. “If it comes my way, I’ve just got to make plays.”
Wally Buono, the Lions head coach and general manager, understands Jackson’s bewilderment but isn’t making any promises.
“Paris might not get a pass this week either,” Buono said. “He’s practised well the last couple of weeks.
“I think the quarterbacks are getting confidence in him. I think he’s getting more confidence in himself. Hopefully, soon we will get him the ball and he’ll be a bigger part of what we are doing.”
Quarterback Travis Lulay swears he’s not purposely ignoring Jackson.
“It’s not a matter of not having faith in Paris,” Lulay said. “I threw my first career touchdown to Paris.
“I have all the confidence in the world throwing the ball his way. It’s just been a matter of the way he game has been played that he hasn’t got in the game.”
The Lions are deep at receiver.
Veteran slotback Geroy Simon is second in the CFL with 648 yards and is just 769 yards away from breaking Milt Stegall’s all-time record. Arland Bruce III, in just his second game since being acquired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, had nine catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns in B.C.’s 36-1 pummelling of the Edmonton Eskimos on Aug. 19.
Akeem Foster, Shawn Gore and rookie Kierrie Johnson are also dangerous.
One edge Jackson has is he’s a bruising receiver who uses his size to punish defenders. That’s also part of the problem, Buono said.
“He just has to be more aware of what he does as far as beating up his body and beating up his knee,” the coach said.
“Whether he wants to work 100 snaps, the issue is he can’t do that any more. He has to be very careful. I think if he’s careful he’s going to be able to be productive.”
In the past, Jackson has been animated and loud. During a game, he celebrates his catches while talking at the opponent. During practices, Jackson would taunt the defence and wasn’t afraid to get in the face of his own teammates.
This year, Jackson has been seen but rarely heard. At practices, he stands quietly, holding his helmet.
“They brought me in and told me to be quiet,” he said. “I have done the best I could.
“It’s hard to keep a beast in his cage. At the same time, I understand where they are coming from. It’s about making the team better. It’s been tough. It’s a new role.”
The Argos will come to Vancouver in a Sept. 10 rematch that will be the Lions’ final game at Empire Field. They will host Edmonton on Sept. 30 at B.C. Place Stadium, which has undergone $565-million in renovations, including a retractable roof.
After slow start, the Lions believe they can turn things around in the second half of the schedule. Jackson believes his team can be on the field when the 2011 Grey Cup game is played in Vancouver.
“We feel like we should win out,” he said. “I believe this team is going to get better and better. We are going to make a big push in the playoffs and hopefully bring the Grey Cup to B.C.”
Whether Jackson will be a Lion next year is anyone’s guess.
“I’m young,” he said with a smile. “I am the kind of guy that is really competitive and will keep on pushing.
“I believe I have five more years and that’s what I’m going to keep in mind. We’ll deal with the business aspect of it at the end of the year.”
The Canadian Press