Falcons defensive lineman Tyson Jackson never felt like he was overweight last season, but Jackson believes he needs to be much lighter to be productive in coach Dan Quinn's defense.
The 6-foot-4 Jackson, who said he was as heavy at 322 pounds last season, has hired a personal chef with the goal of slimming down to 305 pounds. He currently weighs 318 pounds.
"I just started recently, and constantly, week by week, I want to trim down," Jackson said. "I got my personal chef at the end of March. I know Matt Ryan used her, and a couple Falcons in the past have used her, too."
Jackson, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Falcons last season that included $11 million guaranteed, said he pays his chef $2,700 a month.
"You can do either one of two things: She can purchase the food for you and come to your house and prepare it, or you can purchase the food yourself and she can self-teach how to cook everything," Jackson said. "She cooks in bulk loads."
Jackson obviously wants to show he can be an asset after a lackluster 2014 in a 3-4 hybrid look. The previous coaching staff was convinced he'd be the ideal run-stuffer; a massive specimen who would eat up blocks, freeing up linebackers to make plays. But his impact was minimal as the defense struggled as a whole. Jackson, who started all 16 games, finished with 22 combined tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits while playing 47.3 percent of the defensive snaps.
In the new defense, Jackson lines up at defensive end in a 4-3 under front that incorporates some 3-4 principles. It's a role he's not accustomed to but willing to tackle as he strives toward his desired weight.
"Playing this 4-3 style of defense, there's no reason to be heavy because you're not two-gapping no more," Jackson said. "Everything is ball, key and get-off. So, that's pretty much the reason for [losing weight]."
Quinn addressed the value of Jackson shedding some pounds.
"Tyson's always been somebody that has had such great strength," Quinn said. "That's one of the things, when we've watched him through the years, you say, 'Man, is he strong and plays with length.'
"And then in this system ... he'll stunt more and move more than maybe some of the traditional 3-4 teams that Tyson's been a part of through the years. So, as that goes and the movement, you have to give up some of the size and the bulk. It's one of the things he's worked at hard going through the spring. I know going through the next phase (organized team activities), with us being out on the field, that's a good time for guys to really work their conditioning. So he has been, for sure."
All that being said, Jackson will have to prove his worth to Quinn and the new staff. The Falcons now have depth along the defensive line, which decreases Jackson's value. He's unlikely to be called upon much to rush the passer, with players such as Jonathan Babineaux, Adrian Clayborn and Ra'Shede Hageman manning the interior in passing situations.
If the Falcons were to cut Jackson before June 1, it would cost an extra $2.55 million against the cap. If he's cut after June 1, it would be a $2.25 million cap savings because the prorated signing bonus from 2016 and beyond doesn't accelerate into '15 for a post-June 1 cut.
Quinn appears willing to give Jackson a chance. And Jackson currently has Cliff Matthews and rookie Grady Jarrett behind him at defensive end, with Jarrett the guy likely to push hard for extended playing time.
The fact that Jackson was once Kansas City's third-overall pick in the 2009 draft doesn't mean much anymore. He simply has to produce.
"Going into this season, I want to prove to myself that I still have it and that I can still play at a high level," said Jackson, who turns 29 on June 6. "I just want to compete and put myself in a position where I can help my team."