Dolphins’ Austin Jackson ‘angry excited’ to return to field after ankle injuries, surgery
Dolphins offensive tackle Austin Jackson on Tuesday said he underwent reconstructive surgery to address a pair of injuries to his right ankle that limited him to just two games in the 2022 season.
But the 23-year-old was participating in team drills during the first organized team activities practice open to reporters and said he is healthy ahead of a pivotal 2023 campaign.
“I never really had a season-ending injury before,” Jackson said. “So that was tough, but I’m really excited to get back and play now. It’s actually kind of like angry excited.”
With the arrival of head coach Mike McDaniel last season, the hope was that a zone running scheme that values athleticism in its offensive lineman would be a match for Jackson, who has dealt with inconsistencies and moved positions multiple times in the NFL. Instead, Jackson hurt his ankle in the team’s season opener and was placed on injured reserve. He returned in late November but sustained another injury in his first game back. The team placed him on IR again two weeks later, which forced him to sit out the remainder of the season.
“I blew my ankle, really, so fixing that was the biggest thing,” Jackson said. “And then after that, just rehabbing. Just getting better as a professional, physically, mentally, all that, etc. Luckily, for me, I think the injury allowed me to add more consistency to my routine and such. [I’m feeling] really excited going into the season, offseason was great.”
In early May, the Dolphins declined to pick up the fifth-year option for Jackson, the No. 18 overall pick in the 2020 Draft. He’s set to become a free agent after the conclusion of the 2023 season. And this month, Miami signed veteran offensive linemen Isaiah Wynn and Cedric Ogbuehi, both of whom have experience at right tackle. But despite Jackson’s early-career struggles, the Dolphins have continued to publicly support him. General manager Chris Grier said last month that the “expectation” is that Jackson will be the team’s starting right tackle in 2023.
“It was upsetting,” Jackson said of 2022. “I had put a lot into last year, a lot of time to better myself, to be a better player for the Dolphins and to be hit with injuries is something that hasn’t happened to me before. So it was definitely a learning experience. And it just made me even more excited to get on the field again. ... From the injury, I would say I learned how to grow as a professional. Like, I had an injury going into a contract year, I didn’t play in my third year going into an option year. So it’s just, like, all these things around you: How do you focus on doing what you got to do? Doing what’s best for Austin? So, I feel like that’s one of the big things for me is just staying focused.”
In every year of Jackson’s career, he’s had a new offensive line coach and Butch Barry will be his latest in 2023. Jackson, as well as other offensive linemen, have spoken in recent years about how every offensive line coach has nuances to their teachings. But Barry has a relationship with McDaniel dating to their time with the San Francisco 49ers and Jackson noted his attention to detail.
“Football’s tough, man, and coaches are supposed to push us and I appreciate that stuff,” Jackson said. “... Everyone has different vernaculars from different places. He’s very detail-oriented, that’s a big takeaway.”
While Jackson’s position coach may be different, he — like every returning offensive player — has the luxury of playing in the same offensive scheme. And Jackson said that familiarity has helped him during the offseason workout program.
“I get to build on my coaching points from last year,” he said. “And that’s the expectation of me as a second-year player in a system is to obviously build off of what I know. So I’m looking forward to do that.”
McDaniel on Tuesday noted that though the Dolphins’ offense made significant strides in the first year of his scheme, he self-scouted the unit during the offseason and found multiple areas of improvement. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle spoke of finding the unit’s midseason “groove” and sustaining that over the duration of the season.
Better offensive line health would help those efforts after the Dolphins used nine different starting combinations last season. But even when healthy, Jackson acknowledged that his level of play needs to improve from previous seasons.
“I told everybody when I was 17 years old in Indy at the combine, I’m always ready for the challenge,” he said. “Never scared of the challenge. Not afraid of the hard work to do it. I enjoy performing. My plan is to perform better. It’s coming along. I love the confidence of [the Dolphins]. I’m still the same person, but growing as a player but getting better.”