Jackson Embraces Work That Comes With Play
By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
Lamar Jackson cringes at how technology has documented his Nebraska freshman football season.
Simply put, Jackson doesn't watch that film.
Truth be told, he'd rather you didn't, either.
“It's not what I want to show people. It's not what I'm capable of, none of that,” Jackson said after Tuesday's practice. “My mindset wasn't there. I was fighting it the whole year and didn't realize, 'buy in, two feet in.' ”
Jackson's revelation upon completing his first collegiate football season is anything but a revelation to those who have already played the sport.
“It ain't just like high school football. It's another level. It's a business,” Jackson said. “You honestly have to come to work. That's the biggest difference, is coming to work rather than coming to just play.”
Jackson, a sophomore cornerback from Elk Grove, California, admits he noticed the stark contrast early last season but didn't embrace it.
“My mind wasn't right,” he said. “Not taking to coaching, not taking to criticism, talked back a little bit.”
Finally, the flip switched in the offseason. He came in each day of conditioning knowing he would be a different player.
“No more finessing. I'm going to work,” Jackson said.
“Last year, I knew when things were getting hard, and I was struggling, I was shutting down. I was going through the motions, nothing in the tank. Now, I'm emptying the tank. I'm not holding anything back. I'm working.”
Jackson played 13 games last season, behind starters Jones and Joshua Kalu, and made his first career start in the Music City Bowl against Tennessee. When Kalu moved to safety in spring practices, Jackson filled his starting spot, opposite Jones.
Suddenly, with Jones sidelined 4-6 months and Kalu flourishing at a new position, Jackson is Nebraska's most experienced cornerback. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he does possess the necessary size, speed and athleticism to excel at his positon.
He's not letting a couple of injuries and some few faces temper his expectations for the secondary, either.
“We can be as good as we want to be, honestly,” Jackson said. “We have a lot of great athletes, and like I said, the system alone, if you work your technique and really buy in to your technique, you can put pretty much a lot of guys in the secondary and they'll be in position to make plays, if they do their job and do their assignment.”
Jackson's total buy-in and commitment is a storyline that shouldn't be overlooked, although it won't garner the same attention as the other cornerback storyline.
The starter opposition Jackson is a position battle that media and fans will closely monitor throughout fall camp. Each day, we get clearer indications that Kalu, a senior, won't be returning to cornerback, barring an emergency.
Tuesday's sign came when first-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco raised eyebrows by saying Kalu could prove himself to be the top safety in the country.
“Joshua Kalu could play a myriad of different positions really, really well,” Diaco told reporters after practice. “We all collectively believe safety is his natural position. He would be a very good corner, maybe even a great corner, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is, and or will be, one of the best safeties in the country, if not the very best safety in the country.”
So, we again turn our attention toward third-year sophomore Eric Lee Jr. and redshirted freshman Dicaprio Bootle as top candidates to start at cornerback. Lee had already committed himself in January to winning a starting job, back when Jones was healthy and garnering national attention.
“So now that it looks like I'm in an opportunity to play, I've got to stay consistent, because now somebody else is trying to take my spot,” Lee said. “You've got to work every day like someone is coming after yours.”
Lee said he's working on his knowledge of the defense so he doesn't have to work as hard – meaning, he can let the game come to him.
“I know I have help here, and I have help there,” he said, “so my overall knowledge of the defense will slow the game down tremendously.”
First-year Nebraska cornerbacks coach Donte' Williams offered a sterling review of Lee, who, while a couple of inches shorter than Jackson, possesses deceptive speed.
“You almost take him for granted because you never think he's running fast, but because he's so smooth, he is running fast,” Williams said of Lee. “Every way he goes about his business, conducts himself, is a mature, humble kid. Eric Lee conducts himself as though he's a 30-year-old man.”
Lee smiled when told of Williams' comment on his speed.
“All my life people have told me it doesn't look like I'm really trying very hard. I like to think I'm real smooth with it,” Lee said. “I definitely think I have that top gear that, I won't say a lot of people haven't seen, but a lot of people wouldn't think I have.”
As for Jones, the senior uses a crutch as he watches practices from the sideline.
“He's still very involved,” Lee said. “He's in all our meetings, he's outside at our practices. If he sees something, he's going to correct you, because he obviously wants to see you do better. He's almost taking like a coaching mentor role since he's not able to practice right now.”
And, unlike maybe last year, Jones won't likely have to say something to give Jackson a kick in the rear.
So far, the coaches haven't, either.
“Now they don't have to say too much. I'm bringing it,” Jackson said. “If they do say something, I ain't worried about it. I'll keep going.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.