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Gabe Jackson's first snap of the season was the sweetest

Gabe Jackson

For nine years, Gabe Jackson saw nearly every snap of the game from just to the right of the quarterback. A former left guard, Jackson was moved to right guard his second season; there he set up shop for the next eight years.

Until 2023.

In his 10th season, the former third round pick from the 2014 NFL draft found himself on the sideline for the first time in his career. A starter for the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks, Jackson was released in the spring of 2023. He spent months waiting for the phone to ring, before being signed to the Carolina Panthers practice squad on November 29.

Gabe Jackson

He spent two weeks on the sideline (elevated from the practice squad for one of those times, but did not play a snap on offense), watching as his new team went 0-2 during that span. He waited on the bench, hoping to be back on the field before the field was taken away from him. He prepared during the week, drawing on years of experience, in case this would be the game he'd be called upon again.

"Even if you think you're not playing or called up, you always need to prepare because somebody could get sick before the game starts, knock on wood, or whatever the case may be. And I've seen that happen so many times," Jackson said this week. "I've been the one that it happened to or been the one that needs to be up. So you just got to prepare always like you're in."

And on Sunday, in the midst of a deluge that Jackson didn't mind­—"When you're fat, you enjoy the water," – he finally took the first offensive snaps of his 10th season. As he jogged on to the field, he wasn't thinking about getting hit.

Rather, "do the hitting. I'd rather be the hammer than the nail," Jackson said Thursday, looking back on his first game of the season.

Jackson's time at right guard on Sunday, in the 9-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons, was part of an ongoing season long search for the team's answer at the position. He is the eighth player to take snaps at right guard. In all, he took 33 snaps, which was 50 percent of the offensive plays on the day. And even with 8,088 snaps under his belt coming in to the day, that first one on Sunday kicked up a few nerves.

"Definitely growing pains. That's with everything," Jackson admitted. "Getting your feet under you. Knowing when to get aggressive, when to be passive aggressive. When to take your time with certain things. The timing of certain things and not letting your emotions get involved. But you've got to slow it down in your brain and not get overly excited.

"I wouldn't even say because of the first snap, it was just in general. It can be first game or game 15 or 16. It can be getting mad at someone or having a bad play. You got to wash it out, next play. Because if you don't, it'll continue to snowball."

Gabe Jackson

Jackson has one more standard practice squad elevation that the Panthers can employ for a game day. After that point, if Jackson is to play in the final two games of the season, it will have to be as a member of the 53-man roster. As to whether or not Jackson will be starting on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, or rotating alongside rookie Nash Jensen, interim head coach Chris Tabor was mute.

"We're still working through all that. We're still going to have that rotation so we'll be alright there," Tabor said. "Secrets are good. It's Christmas."

If Jackson is on the field against the Packers, starting or not, he'll be tasked with taking on interior lineman such as Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt and TJ Slaton; a challenge he welcomes.

"They're great players," Jackson said. "They're active, they're smart, they play hard. You always love to play against people like that, it brings out the best and makes you want to work hard and make you lock in. And you have to be honed in on the details and the footwork and just to finish every play."

Gabe Jackson has played a lot of football over the past decade. Chances are he won't have to wait nearly a year to do so again. But for whatever comes and whatever has passed, that first snap on Sunday in the pouring rain, washed away all the disappointment of the past several months.

"I (just) missed football," Jackson said, both giddy and reverent. "Waiting all year to get on the field… I felt like a high. A good high," he stopped to giggle, before reiterating, "I love me some football."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

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