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Friday, September 11, 2009
What can Jackson do? You name it

Posted by's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The soundtrack for this blog item, Destiny Child's "Say My Name," should be playing in the back of your brain as you read on.

If you ain't runnin' game
 Rick Stewart/Getty Images
 Fred Jackson believes the Bills can make a "statement" against the Patriots on Monday night.
Say my name, say my name ...

Fred Jackson is entering his third NFL season, but a household name he's not.

Not even those scouting him, including a team that was trampled by him, know who this guy is.

Jackson is the Buffalo Bills' backup running back, but the underrated and versatile reserve will move to the forefront for the first three weeks of the season, while Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch serves a suspension.

By the end of the month, fans outside of Western New York should know his name. Heading into Monday night's opener against the New England Patriots, though, he's practically anonymous.

"Thomas, the running back, had a great game against us last year to end the year," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday on a conference call with Bills reporters.

The Bills don't have a running back with the first or last name Thomas. They have a Fred and a Jackson, and that's about it because they released Dominic Rhodes on cutdown day. Rhodes was supposed to help Jackson make up for Lynch's absence, but the Bills decided to lean heavily on Jackson with some support from Xavier Omon.

Jackson is hoping to introduce himself to the country on the big stage in prime time. He has played on Monday night before, but not as the featured back. This will be a showcase game. Brady will return after missing last season with a knee injury. Terrell Owens will make his Bills debut.

"Everybody is watching, and it's a great place to go out and make some plays," Jackson said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for us to help us as a team get started on the right path.

"We’ve got New England and Tom Brady is back, so everyone will be watching that game to see what he can do. What better place for us to go out and make a statement for ourselves?"

See, Tom? He knows your name.

Jackson is easily overlooked because of his limited pedigree. He played for Division III Coe College, wasn't drafted, played for Sioux City of the U.S. Indoor Football League, made it to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europa, landed on Buffalo's practice squad and made the roster for eight games in 2007.

He played in all 16 games last year and started three. He rushed for 571 yards and three touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 317 yards. He also can return punts, breaking off a 35-yarder last year and averaging 16.6 yards on seven tries.

Jackson had an outstanding game against the Patriots in the season finale. The winds raged so harshly they twisted the Ralph Wilson Stadium goal posts, the Patriots knew the Bills had little choice but to run. Lynch was out with an injury. But Jackson still ran 27 times for 136 yards, both career highs.

"Let's not forget that Mr. Jackson ran for about 130 yards on us last year into a 50 mile-per hour wind when we knew he was going to run the ball," Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees said this week. "I'm sure they wish they had Marshawn. You never want to have anybody out, but Mr. Jackson can do a very respectful job and he has done that against us."

No, his name ain't Thomas. It's Fred. Mr. Jackson if you're nasty.

We'll see if anybody's singing a different tune four days from now.