Exactly. Which is why Zachary Jackson believes he fits the job description of outside linebacker for the Bulldog defense. “Basically, poise,” is how he puts it.
“I’m more slow to react, I don’t panic. That comes with experience and time. I feel like that helps me out.”
Patience is one virtue Jackson is counting on to secure his status in the 2015 Mississippi State scheme. He does have others of course. Three varsity seasons of experience, primarily. Then there’s his own speed to reinforce reading of the plays. It’s that speed which lets Jackson take his time initially.
“Yeah, you need to calm down sometimes. Especially if you’re on the outside.”
Which is where the senior has found his niche, ever since an early-career move from defensive back. Jackson was tested at cornerback and then safety and might well have succeeded in the latter position over time.
But in Coach Dan Mullen’s tenure there’s been a preference to find a physical defensive back and work him up into a linebacker’s life. It worked out well for Cameron Lawrence and Matt Wells, after all.
Jackson is satisfied with how his own career has played out. “I like linebacker better, actually. Because it’s more action at linebacker. I’m physical so I like to put my hands on people. You get to do that at linebacker, which at corner you’re not really going to too much touch nobody unless it’s a ball thrown that way.”
Setting aside this aspersion on how Bulldog cornerbacks battle… Outside ‘backer does fit Jackson’s mindset as much as his physique. The listed 212 pounds looks a little light in person as the 6-2 frame carries some impressive muscle.
“I’m comfortable,” said Jackson of working his side. “I can run basically from sideline to sideline so that helps me out. And then I can see a lot of stuff other people on the other side of the field can’t see. You see more of the plays and expect more to come.”
Getting from one side to the other, in support or chasing the ball down, is Jackson’s forte. His questions, oddly enough for a converted safety, have come in some coverage situations. That’s not unusual for a linebacker of course.
It is curious though that Jackson is succeeding Wells, an outstanding cover-man in space who had no trouble bringing down big backs at the line of scrimmage. That’s why Wells is battling for a NFL roster place right now. Wells also allowed State the luxury of not necessarily having to go into a true nickel lineup if is suited the scheme.
But Jackson is also operating under new management. And, he said, linebackers coach/coordinator Manny Diaz isn’t big on those same exact ‘help’ philosophies. Or having a true linebacker cover a full-time receiver more often than necessary for that matter.
So now, or so far, “A linebacker doesn’t have to cover a receiver all day,” Jackson said. “Because eventually you’re going to lose the race. Coach Diaz has helped us out with that.”
Just because Jackson won’t try to duplicate Wells on the field does not mean he hasn’t taken cues from the guy he backed-up or alternated with for two seasons.
“I learned a lot from Matt. From like different ways to play the game, different ways to know what your opponent is going to do before he does it. Just leadership roles and all type of stuff.”
Diaz gave Jackson a vote of spring confidence. And so far in preseason the oldest linebacker is fitting in fine with his co-#1s, middle linebacker Richie Brown and outside man Beniquez Brown. They’ve each found their role in the routine, per Jackson.
“Our chemistry is good when it’s us three are in the game. Because Beniquez is going to tell us the calls; Richie is going to set the front; I’m going to tell Richie the splits of receivers. It’s communication all up and down the line. That’s better for everybody, the more communication there is.”
There’s one theme Jackson says comes through clearly. He is the old hand here now, and with that comes a little extra urgency. Players can be patient on the field, but career time goes by so fast.
“Yeah, it’s my last camp, too. It’s going to start to sink in, too.”