Sometimes you just need to allow a player to concentrate on what they do well. That’s something the Green Bay Packers are going to try to do with cornerback Josh Jackson this season.
Jackson is entering his third year in the NFL this season and the former Iowa star struggled mightily in 2019. It started with an injury that slowed him down in training camp and reduced his reps. He played in 14 games but played in only 10 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, down from 68 percent his rookie season. By the end of the 2019 campaign, Jackson was struggling to get on the field on defense and was a player without a major role on defense.
The Packers are looking to change that this year. Last season, the Packers had Jackson learning several positions including slot corner, outside corner and even safety. This year, the coaching staff has determined that Jackson is best suited to playing on the perimeter at cornerback and that’s where they will have him focus. The results have been positive so far as Jackson has taken a big step forward in training camp this season.
“We were training him at multiple positions because we wanted to make sure we had some depth,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told reporters on Friday in a video press conference. “So, we played him some at nickel. Whereas here, he’s been exclusively outside. That’s not to say, down the road, we couldn’t cross-train him.”
Jackson’s strengths are his ability to be physical on the line of scrimmage and his football intelligence when playing zone defense. In college, he also demonstrated a nose for the football, intercepting eight passes in his final year at Iowa and returning two of those for touchdowns.
In the NFL, however, Jackson is still looking for his first pick. He did score a touchdown during his rookie season when he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone against the Vikings in Week 2.
But Jackson never allowed the frustrating situation from last season to get him too down, and now, he’s ready to show the coaching staff what he’s capable of doing.
“It feels good just to be back out there and just continuing to get better each and every day,” Jackson told reporters. “I feel great and it’s feels great to be able to start from scratch from day one.”
Jackson has taken advantage of the ability to start over and the results have been noticeable to Pettine. “He’s done a good job,” Pettine explained. “He came in here with the right mentality. We have high expectations for Josh, and he’s going to be a big part of what we do this year.”
Jackson is trying to learn how to be physical enough with receivers to knock them off their routes without being too physical and drawing a flag.
“I’m really just trying to stay focused and stay patient,” Jackson said. “I think you win a lot of your reps at the line of scrimmage and I think if you can really just focus on that and then getting to know your progressions as far as routes and just reading what the receiver does, it definitely helps but I think the line is really where I’m trying to improve my focus in camp and just get comfortable.”
Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has also liked what he’s seen so far from Jackson in training camp. “He’s had some good days here in camp and I think he’s done a good job of understanding what we’re trying to get done,” Gray told reporters. “I thought he did a really good job the last couple of days.”
Jackson has also been able to keep an even keeled attitude despite facing adversity last season. “I’m just trying to do my job every down and I feel like when I do that that’s how you make plays,” he said. “I think when you try to press and just overreact is when you give up big plays or you’re not really focused. I think you just take it one play at a time and just focus in on that play as it comes.”
Pettine likes what he’s seen from Jackson this year and is high on his potential. “He’s come in so far and he’s had a good camp,” Pettine explained. “When he does things right, technique wise, he has good length, he gets hands on guys, he’s hard to get open against.”
Jackson is excited about 2020. “I feel pretty hungry and just ready to help the team get to where we need to get. Obviously, we have goals and I just want to come out and just do my job every chance I get and really just make plays for the team and just be somebody that the team can rely on.”
If Jackson can accomplish that, he can be an important part of the Packers defense backing up Kevin King and Jaire Alexander and playing in nickel or dime packages. If Jackson and some other young players on this defense can take a step forward this year, they can help this defense take a step forward in 2020.
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