Football doesn't feel the same when the Oakland Raiders aren't playing, and it most definitely doesn't feel the same when right guard Gabe Jackson isn't playing.
For the last six weeks, Jackson has been sidelined after suffering an injury during the team's joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams during training camp in August. Since then, he's been rehabbing and getting back into peak physical form.
Head Coach Jon Gruden spoke with the media last week and said Jackson looks in the best shape he's ever seen him, and that he expected to see him return to practice Monday.
"I think he has a chance," Gruden said when asked whether Jackson would be ready for Week 7. "I've been getting videos from the trainers while I've been in London and Indiana about Gabe's process and it's exciting. This guy has clearly worked hard. He looks better, I think, than he's ever looked. He's really gotten himself in great shape. We'll be smart about it. We hope if it's not this coming game, hopefully it's the next. He's a valuable member of our team. Certainly he'll give us a jolt when he comes back."
Gruden was right about his prediction, as big No. 66 returned to the fold this afternoon for his first practice in months. When healthy, Jackson has played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level — even though the voters have snubbed him year after year.
The Raiders offensive line has been dominant, but we haven't seen it at its full potential. First, Richie Incognito dealt with a two-game suspension to start the year, Trent Brown was nursing an injury, and Jackson was absent with an injury of his own; however, the Raiders offensive line looks on track to make its first full start in totality on Sunday.
Jackson explained simply why he was ready to return.
"I'm excited to be back with my brothers," he said. "It's been a long time — too long."
While Jackson was away, the Mississippi State product stayed focused on his playbook, and continued to participate in the team meetings. He's prepared for every game as if he was taking the field, and he expects to this Sunday.
Jackson is a six-year pro, but for rookie cornerback Isaiah Johnson, he still has yet to experience his first career regular season game.
Johnson started the year on the Injured Reserve list, but after rejoining the team at practice Monday, his time might be in the not-so-distant future.
"To be honest with you I really don't know, I just know I can practice right now," he told reporters. "I think when they can be activate me I will be activated. I just want to contribute and help my team win some games."
The fourth-round pick has officially started his 21-day window for reactivation, and while he's unaware of when that time will be, he's used the past six weeks on IR to mature.
As it stands now, Johnson does not count towards the team's 53-man roster, so if the Raiders did decide to elevate him at some point over the next 21 days, they would have to make a corresponding move.
"To me I just feel like everything happens for a reason," Johnson said. "I believe in marathons not races. Everybody has a time and place for something to happen, my time just wasn't then. When I got hurt it didn't really destroy me mentally just because I knew there were steps to getting where I wanted to go, and I used it as a learning experience."
Johnson knows that he might not walk into playing time right away, considering Daryl Worley and Gareon Conley are playing well, but he's hopeful that he can make an impact on special teams immediately.
The return of Johnson, and Jackson especially, should help this team immensely for the final 12 games of the season.