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Canadian Jackson getting pricey homecoming in Detroit after breakthrough season with Rams

Alaric Jackson Los Angeles Rams Alaric Jackson - The Canadian Press

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Alaric Jackson will make his first career playoff start in his hometown Sunday night, and he's paying for it.

The ticket requests started coming in moments after his Los Angeles Rams' matchup with the Detroit Lions was announced, and they didn't stop. The Rams' starting left tackle had to hit up his teammates and even the Lions to eventually come up with 75 tickets for family members and friends.

“I bought like $10K of tickets, dude,” Jackson said, shaking his head. “It’s a lot of family. I’m very inclusive and I love everybody. ... And honestly, they’re all Lions fans, so it’s kind of like, forget them until after the game. I love you, but right now I’m busy.”

So Jackson will have plenty of people who know his name in the stands at Ford Field, even if they're not all cheering for him. That's how it goes for perhaps the Rams' most important unsung player.

Jackson is the protector of Matthew Stafford’s blind side, a key blocker for Kyren Williams and the steadying force on an offensive line that has been the key to the Los Angeles offense's success. That line spent last season in turmoil after the Rams’ Super Bowl victory and stalwart left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s subsequent retirement.

Jackson was a rookie backup for the Super Bowl champions. He was emerging as a key player on the line last year, but blood clots sidelined him at midseason. He returned from the scary setback and won the starting job at left tackle in training camp, beating out Joe Noteboom — the sixth-year pro who had signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension just a year earlier.

“I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s played, especially since the bye,” coach Sean McVay said of Jackson. “I think there’s been a focus. There’s been a concentration. There’s been a consistency, snap in and snap out. He deserves a ton of credit for the work that he’s putting in and how he approaches every single day. He certainly has the ability, but I think it’s most importantly the work that he’s put in and the way that he is just continuing to push himself.”

Jackson was born just across the Detroit River from Ford Field in Windsor, Ontario, and he grew up on both sides of the border as a dual citizen. He started grade school in Canada, moved to the U.S. for five years, briefly returned to Windsor and then attended Renaissance High School in Detroit.

His father is a big Lions fan, particularly rooting for Stafford and Calvin Johnson during his son's childhood. Jackson was more of a Detroit Pistons fan who preferred playing basketball, so he didn't start playing football until his junior year, when his size and athleticism made it an obvious career path.

Jackson was a four-year starter at Iowa, but he wasn't among the 25 offensive tackles chosen in the 2021 draft. He still made the Rams' 53-man roster and played occasionally while winning a ring. He has steadily improved while overcoming his health setbacks, but Jackson still doesn't feel he's really made it despite starting 15 games for a playoff team this season.

“There’s a lot more to go, honestly,” Jackson said. “I’m thankful to have the chance to play at a high level for Sean McVay, behind Stafford, but I really haven’t done much in reality. I need to clean up my game, I feel like. I’ve played fairly well for the first season as a full starter, but I’m not really satisfied with my play.”

Jackson now has the job of protecting Stafford from Aidan Hutchinson and the rest of Detroit's pass rush, providing enough time for the Rams to make gains against the Lions' questionable pass defense.

Jackson has spent the week preparing, and he won't let his friends and family interrupt that focus when the Rams touch down in Detroit this weekend. He says he won't be seeing visitors at the team hotel.

“Forget them right now,” Jackson said. “They’ll try, but I’m not going to let them. It’s football first. Business trip.”