Jon Jansen was dropped by the Redskins after the 2008 season but played 11 games and started nine for the Lions in 2009. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
He's old enough to know better. That's a good place to start right there.
Whether that's enough to earn veteran Jon Jansen a starting job at right tackle for the Lions this season remains to be seen.
Jansen was getting first-team practice reps ahead of incumbent starter Gosder Cherilus again Monday. And more than a week into training camp, it's becoming clear this isn't simply for show, or to send a message, or even a case of easing Cherilus back from April knee surgery.
"They're competing," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "Right now, that's all it is."
That's all a guy like Jansen, a Clawson native and former Michigan All-American, can ask for at this point in his career, really. He's entering his 12th NFL season at the age of 34, and with 137 games in his rearview mirror, he's about to begin his third decade as a pro, technically speaking.
Just don't bring up the word "retirement" around Jansen. The Redskins tried that a year ago, and his response then was the same one I got Monday: Laughter.
"As soon as last year was over, I wanted to play again," said Jansen, who re-signed with the Lions in March and will make the veteran minimum ($855,000) this season. "My goal has always been to play as many years as I can. And I've still got a lot of football left in me. I've got a couple more past this one, actually."
Last May, the Redskins told him he didn't. The phone rang one morning during the Jansens' breakfast at their offseason home near Petoskey. Owner Daniel Snyder wanted to talk, and he dispatched his private jet to fly Jansen, whose run of injuries from 2004-07 admittedly took a toll, back to D.C. to tell him his services were no longer needed. And to ask him if he wanted to retire after a 10-year career with the Redskins.
Not ready to retire
By the time the plane landed back in Detroit, Jansen's agent already had negotiated a one-year contract with the Lions, his hometown team.
"Anytime somebody tells you, 'Hey, we think you're done,' as an athlete, your hair's going to stand up on the back of your neck and you're going to say, 'You don't tell me when I'm done,' " said Jansen, whose wife, Martha, is expecting their fourth child this winter. "That's the way I think any competitive athlete, especially one who's not ready to retire, would react to it.
"But I never doubted that I could still play. If they didn't want me to play there, so be it. (The Redskins) wanted me to retire and that was their prerogative. But it wasn't in my plans."
As for the Lions' plans, time will tell. So will the preseason results, beginning Saturday at Pittsburgh, as Cherilus, a 2008 first-round pick who struggled with injuries and inconsistent play last fall, fights to keep his starting job.
Frankly, I'll be surprised if he doesn't. But the very fact that his feet are being held to the fire -- "Gos isn't a young player any more, you know?" Linehan says. "He's got to step up and start playing like a young veteran" -- is another positive sign in Allen Park.
Say what you will about this franchise's past mistakes, or even the outlook for this season, but even the cynics have to admit this: The pragmatic approach is progress.
"In this business, there's always going to be competition," said Jansen, who'll also serve an important role as the team's NFL Players Association rep this season. "And if there's not, there's something wrong with the organization. If they're not bringing in guys to compete, then they're not trying to get better. And that's one thing I think that's different about this year is there's a lot of competition at a lot of spots. I think that's going to bring out the best in the guys that are here."
In this case, it had better. The Lions addressed one huge problem by trading for left guard Rob Sims this offseason. But if Cherilus can't provide steadier play at right tackle, the Lions have to hope Jansen still has as much left in the tank as he thinks he does, because rookie Jason Fox isn't ready to step in yet.
"It's fun to be in a competition," said Jansen, whom Linehan calls one of the smartest players he has coached. "I mean, that's why we play the game. I always want to get better, and that's what I'm focusing on. And if I can continue to get better, the competition's going to take care of itself.
"But I feel as good now as I have in a long time. So let's keep on working."
And in this state, in this economy, who can argue with that sentiment, right?
"Hey, jobs are hard to find," Jansen said, laughing. "Especially ones that pay like this."
Gosder Cherilus, center, and Jon Jansen, right, have a chat during drills. ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
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