Tupelo product regains arm strength, set for CFL season

By Mike Beamish/Vancouver Sun

KAMLOOPS, B.C. – Spaghetti with meat sauce is a staple at the training table of a CFL camp. But when your arm starts resembling the pasta dishes at lunchtime, that’s not a good sign for a quarterback.
The dreaded “noodle arm” afflicted BC Lions quarterback Jarious Jackson a year ago in preseason camp. Now, a full 18 months after surgery to repair a shoulder tear, the 34-year-old Tupelo native feels as if his arm strength and throwing mechanics are finally back to where they were, almost two years ago.
Jackson threw a touchdown last week in a 24-0 preseason win over Calgary and saw limited action in Wednesday’s 34-6 win against Saskatchewan. The Lions open the regular season next Thursday at Montreal.
His troubles began after a Sept. 2009 game in Montreal, when he noticed that he couldn’t lift the tray table on the flight back to Vancouver. He’s a long way from that now.
“It’s like night and day,” Jackson said after a recent practice. “My arm was a noodle last year compared to this year.”
Jackson admits he never warmed up sufficiently before or iced his shoulder to prevent swelling because major injury issues were never a problem. Now, firing up his muscles with a sufficient number of warm-up tosses, and cooling them down later, are part of his cautionary routine.
“Training camp puts more stress on your arm than at any time of the year,” he says. “If I can make it through this, the season should be a breeze. So far, my arm hasn’t been a problem.
“Last year, after the first day of throwing, my arm fatigued-out. I’d take 20 minutes to get it loose, and then I could barely throw 10 yards. If I stood around for four minutes, it would be back to square one. When someone (a surgeon) has to go inside of your arm, it takes at least eight months, probably a year, before you’re really right again.”
Originally diagnosed with a pinhole tear in his shoulder, Jackson grew restive when the injury didn’t heal on its own, the recommended treatment course prescribed by the Lions medical staff. When the process lingered beyond a time he found unacceptable, Jackson sought a second opinion.
Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon from Birmingham, Ala. – the same doctor who repaired the shredded shoulder of Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees – did cleanup surgery on Jackson’s shoulder and bicep, in January, 2010.
In hindsight, however, Jackson realizes he rushed his rehab and would have been better off shutting down for the entire 2010 training camp, and much of the regular season, to let the healing process really take hold.
“He gave us a timetable for his recovery – and he was wrong,” says Lions head coach Wally Buono. “The timetable he gave to us was not even close.”
One for the team
Still, Buono remembers the valiant effort Jackson put in when he was asked to start an Aug. 12 game in Regina last year because of an injury to starter Casey Printers. Jackson was intercepted twice, never manufactured a touchdown drive and misfired on potential touchdown throws in a 37-13 loss to the Roughriders, dropping the Lions’ record to 1-6.
But somebody had to play quarterback, and Jackson took the abuse and criticism for his poor play, though he probably was at 75 percent of his effectiveness.
“I guess the message was, ‘Hey, if this guy can come in and play hurt, and I’m fully healthy, then, hey, I’ve got to pick up my play,’ ” Jackson says. “If that was the kind of message I was trying to send, then so be it.”
Jackson’s willingness to take a bullet for the team and other unselfish, team-building acts of leadership are what have endeared him to players and coaches.
Buono lists Jackson, who was a record-setting passer at Notre Dame, among his key off-season acquisitions. Jackson played out his option last season, dipped his toe briefly into free agency then re-signed with the Lions, after getting nibbles from the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
His reported $140,000 deal makes Jackson the highest-paid backup quarterback in the league.
Buono says it’s money well spent.
“We put him in a tough position last year against Saskatchewan,” Buono says. “That was not fair. But he’s a resilient personality and a tremendous leader and mentor.”
Jackson says the 2011 Lions “are Travis Lulay’s team” and he fully accepts that he’s here again in a support role. Still, history has shown that the Lions quarterback who takes snaps in June is not necessarily the one crouching behind centre in November.
Buono likes to think that the Lions won’t lose much if Jackson is forced to carry the offensive load at some point. He threw just 48 passes, completing 26, for a meager total of 293 yards last season.
“He’s so much better,” Buono says. “How many times did he throw the ball in the dirt last year? Do you see any this year? His accuracy is better. His vision’s better. He’s slimmer, more agile, and a little quicker, like a running back. Last year, you didn’t see that.”
The sleeker Jackson, is really the same 240-pound load, he says, but his bulk is better distributed.
“Last year, man, with the shoulder … jogging, lifting weights, couldn’t do it,” Jackson says. “Jogging would just send my shoulder pounding with pain. This off-season, I was able to get on my workout regimen, run hard in the heat of Texas, lift weights every day and get my body right. Everything’s the same. It’s just re-arranged.”
He should be better able to handle the weight of expectations, too, if comes to that.