Lions' Jonah Jackson adds weight, martial arts skills ahead of second season

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The offensive line is supposed to be the Detroit Lions' strength. It should be given the investment. 

Among the projected starting five, there are three first-round picks and a high-profile, free-agent addition. That collection of talent has allowed the fifth man, second-year guard Jonah Jackson, to quietly fly under the radar. 

But an offensive line is only as good as its weakest link, and Jackson, a third-round pick from a year ago, is determined to do his part. So while many players leave town after the season, he stayed local, figuring the team's facilities and strength staff were an excellent resource to help him prepare for his sophomore campaign.

Lions offensive lineman Jonah Jackson has spent the majority of his time at left guard during training camp.

"Jonah is one of the handful of guys who's been here since basically I got this job, been in this building working like every day," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "I bring that up because I've seen him since February, at least seeing him around, know what he's doing. He's been down there with (head strength and conditioning coach) Josh (Schuler) and those guys working out in the in the weight room. I already know what he's all about and I know the work that he's put in and I know what his body is able to put out.

"We've had our eyes on him and he's a workaholic. He's hungry, he's smart. I’ll tell you what, this kid’s a leader. Now, it may take a tick to show, but this kid is going to be. He's cut from the right cloth. He's kind of, sometimes, maybe he's quietly the guy that gets a little bit lost, but we're looking for a big year out of him."

The work Jackson has put in is visibly apparent. Sure, he's put on 10 pounds, but he looks leaner. He's added muscle and strength, not bad weight, and cut his beloved Taco Bell out of his diet. 

"I feel good," he said. "I feel like I'm moving fast, efficiently. I definitely feel like I'm able to sit on more power moves better."

Additionally, Jackson has been getting in some unique work with assistant strength coach Morris Henry. 

Henry is in his second season with the Lions, previously working for Auburn. Typically a background figure in the operation, what's unique about his resume is he holds a fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo. 

The two agreed to fill Jackson's offseason off days, Tuesday and Thursday, with martial arts lessons that focused on hand fighting, a critical component to an offensive lineman's success. 

"This is my first time doing it," Jackson said. "I'm learning a lot of the different block techniques, working my hands, learning how to get hands off of me. It's become completely beneficial to my development as an offensive lineman."

The Lions added Jackson with the No. 75 pick in last year's draft. After starting his college career with Rutgers, he finished up as a grad transfer with Ohio State, immediately joining the Buckeyes' talented starting lineup. 

With an established reputation as a strong pass protector, the Lions also liked his versatility and maturity. And just like he did at Ohio State, he immediately earned a starting job in Detroit, first at right guard, before swapping sides starting in Week 3 and sticking there the remainder of the year.  

Outside of a handful of reps at center during training camp — as a potential emergency option if Frank Ragnow were to suffer an injury — Jackson has remained at left guard, comfortably between the Pro Bowler Ragnow on his right and offensive tackle Taylor Decker on his left. 

Again, with those two drawing the spotlight and generating the headlines as the unit's unquestioned leaders and top performers, it has allowed Jackson to hone in on doing his part without the burden of lofty expectations someone like rookie Penei Sewell, the No. 7 pick this year, might face.

"Having Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, two of the smartest minds in the building, next to me, it definitely takes a lot of pressure off," Jackson said. "But, you know, I've got to hold up my end of the bargain. We're the tip of the spear in there, so I like to bring my edge, along with them."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers