Pitt's Jackson bids for starting cornerback job
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Pitt senior cornerback Buddy Jackson has been one of the best players in spring practice every season since he joined the Panthers.
But when the season started, all the potential Jackson showed seemingly disappeared as he would find his way into the coaches' doghouse, have to deal with nagging injuries or, at least early in his career, struggle with maturity issues.
Until last year, that is.
Then, in his fourth year at Pitt, Jackson, likely the most physically gifted player the Panthers have, not to mention the fastest, stopped being a spring hero and fall zero.
Instead, he ended up not only on the depth chart, but also on the field. Eventually, he resembled the player coaches hoped he would be when they recruited him.
"All that is behind me," Jackson said. "I just am going to take advantage of this opportunity, I am a fifth-year senior, this is my last year, my last go around, I'm just going to be coachable and get better every day and try and compete. I just want to be coachable."
Now Jackson is hoping to capitalize on that finish and the fresh start he gets from a new coaching staff. He is off to a fast start.
Jackson has done so well that he not only has a chance to be one of the starters at cornerback, but he also has a chance to fulfill his dream of being a full-time kick-returner.
"I did it my junior and senior year of high school," Jackson said of returning kicks. "And then I took a few back for touchdowns, so teams started to sky kick it. So to get back and get an opportunity to do it, I'm really looking forward to it this fall.
"I just need to make sure I catch the ball and get up the field, see that gap and go into it. I am just going to use my speed and do what I have to in order to get that shot in the game. Once I get that ball, I'm see the end zone, I want to get there as fast as possible."
Jackson, timed in the 40-yard dash in just under 4.4 seconds, also has a 42-inch vertical leap. While working his way into the kick-return rotation, he has excited coaches with his speed and attitude.
Pitt coach Todd Graham said he was excited by Jackson's approach to the kick-return role as well as his speed and talent.
Jackson also has impressed the new coaching staff with his work ethic and toughness.
"As far as pure talent, I've been doing this for a long time and I've coached a lot of NFL guys -- I've never had one who is capable of what Buddy can do," said Pitt secondary coach Tony Gibson. "He's really, really talented. Now, we just need to get him to harness all that talent and fit into what we do.
"I wasn't here so I don't know about the past, but I can tell you he is really, really working hard and he is doing everything to show us that he wants to play -- studying film, working out hard, asking questions. It is really encouraging, and he's one of the guys we've been really excited about."
Jackson, at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, is starting at corner but that is because Antwuan Reed, who was one of the 2010 starters, is sitting out the spring with an injury.
But there is no question Jackson will be a contender for a lot of playing time, if not a starting position, this fall. Gibson said he is one of three players, along with Reed and K'Wuan Williams, who will jockey for the bulk of the playing time at cornerback.
Jackson said learning the new system has been challenging at times, but the key is that, in this system, the corners are asked to be aggressive and physical as well as make plays on the ball.
Gibson said Jackson was impressive early in camp with one or two interception returns for touchdowns per practice and added that Jackson's technique has improved steadily.
"Early in the spring, I was getting a lot of work, getting a lot of balls thrown my way and I was picking things off, making a lot of plays," Jackson said.
"Hopefully, I can start back up that streak of picks. I looked at this spring as the biggest spring of my life.
"It is my senior year, and, with Antwuan being hurt, I have gotten the opportunity to go out there with the [first team] and secure a starting spot going into the fall."
First Published April 1, 2011 12:00 am