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After Five-Year Odyssey, Ravens S Bennett Jackson Set To Make Regular-Season Debut

October 17, 2019
The game between the Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks Oct. 20 will feature Seattle's Most Valuable Player candidate Russell Wilson, Baltimore's dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson, new Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters and the highly anticipated return to Seattle of safety Earl Thomas, part of the vaunted "Legion of Boom" Seahawks defense that reached the Super Bowl twice.

But the most compelling story of all might be someone who plays just a handful of snaps. When Ravens safety Bennett Jackson steps onto the field -- even if just for a few special teams plays -- it will culminate a remarkable five-year journey of perseverance and ferocious belief in himself. 

Barring a freak practice injury in the next few days, Jackson will wear a Ravens No. 33 jersey and make his first appearance in an NFL regular-season game -- five years after he was originally drafted, four years after his second major knee surgery and about two months after he was a final training-camp cut by the Ravens, the second straight year he failed to make the team out of training camp.

After being cut this year by the Ravens, the New Jersey native was claimed by the New York Jets, finally on a 53-man roster for the first time. But Jackson, 28, was a game day inactive in the season opener, then cut and re-signed to the practice squad. 

When the Ravens lost safeties Tony Jefferson and DeShon Elliott to injuries, they claimed Jackson off the Jets' practice squad, and when he returned to the Ravens' facility earlier this week, he said, "It felt like I was just coming home."

Jackson, a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2014 by the New York Giants, has friends and former teammates whose NFL careers have already come and gone, while Jackson waited and waited and waited for the chance that he kept insisting to himself would come. 

It was supposed to come in 2015. A year removed from knee surgery that cost him his rookie year, Jackson had converted from cornerback to safety and was in line to be a starter -- until suffering a torn ACL in a preseason game, which meant a trip to injured reserve, another lost season. 

Jackson didn't make the team out of training camp the next year, beginning an 18-month odyssey in which he began to wonder whether his chance would ever come. He continued to train, but he learned that the phone calls don't come often for a 26-year-old with injury history and no game tape. 

"It was definitely tough mentally. I learned a lot about myself and life in general," Jackson said, who kept telling himself through all the workouts that, "When my time comes, my time comes."

"I knew I had the talent to play in the league," he added, "which is why I never gave up on training and just getting after it and keeping the NFL my main focus. I knew I had the talent. It's just something would come about, injury or something that I couldn't control."

There were a couple of other workouts, and then Jackson's long layoff ended when the Ravens signed him to a reserve/futures contract in January 2018. That guaranteed him no more than a line far down on the Ravens' depth chart, but he was back in the league, even if only on the fringe.

Jackson needed sports hernia surgery at the end of training camp and once again landed on injured reserve. He was released later that fall and signed to the Ravens' practice squad. 

Jackson was in training camp yet again for the Ravens this summer, but he found himself buried on the depth chart in a secondary considered one of the deepest in the league. 

After Jackson intercepted a pass in the preseason opener, head coach John Harbaugh said Jackson was good enough to play in the NFL, but on a roster with veterans Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson and Anthony Levine and up-and-comers Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott, there was no room in Baltimore. In the final roster crunch to 53 players, Jackson was cut loose yet again.

Now with Jefferson and Elliott sidelined, Jackson is back, and days away from his first NFL regular-season game -- five-plus years in the making. 

"I got a different story than a lot of guys, on a different pathway for the most part, but I've been working my whole life just to get this opportunity," Jackson said. "So I'm definitely going to make the most of it when the time comes."

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox