Lucky No. 7

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On a defense loaded with future NFL Draft picks, it was Mywan Jackson that delivered arguably the top performance in North Carolina's spring game in April. The sophomore defensive back is now looking to turn that sip of playmaking ability into a season-long gulp in 2010.

Jackson helped lead the White squad to a 17-0 victory over the Blue squad on Apr. 10, taking the ball off wide receiver Todd Harrelson's hands for two interceptions – including once in the back of the end zone – while also totaling six tackles and a pass breakup.

But while the Seffner, Fla. native admits that performance provided a confidence boost heading into the offseason, he has no intentions to dwell on the exhibition event.

"That's really in the past to me," Jackson said on Friday morning. "That was a game that we had in the spring, but we're not in the spring anymore. So I'm just looking to get better every day now. I had a good game then, but I've got to have a good game every game that I play."

Jackson's primary focus from when he first arrived in Chapel Hill last summer through spring practice had been cornerback, but things have definitely changed in that regard. Last week, the word around the program was that Jackson had become the leading candidate for the starting nickel back position.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder downplayed that assertion following Friday's practice.

"To tell you the truth, I don't know," said Jackson, who played in six games on special teams in ‘09. "I'm just going out and playing every day, trying to fight for the job. I don't know where I'm at on the depth chart."

But red-shirt junior defensive back Matt Merletti, who was tabbed as the starting nickel back prior to an ACL injury last preseason, had a different opinion.

"I'm pretty sure he'll get the starting nickel job," Merletti said. "He's doing very well at it. He was struggling a little bit and still trying to learn at first, but he's definitely come a long way. He's doing pretty well."

UNC head coach Butch Davis told Inside Carolina in May that the nickel back position is partially defined by the opponent, but added that his version of the position "predominantly has a corner-type of a personality."

That has allowed for a rather seamless transition for Jackson, although there's no doubting the difficulty of the position.

"Playing nickel, you're probably going to be faced up in the slot with the best receiver from the other team, and it's basically just you and him," Jackson said. "… It's pretty tough inside. Outside, you can be on an island, but inside you've got to know what's going on, know your blitzes and know your run fits."

The path to playing time hasn't been without its obstacles, however. As with most freshmen student-athletes, Jackson's first 12 months in Chapel Hill were a whirlwind.

"It's a big learning curve," Jackson said. "When I came in, I didn't know that much, having to change positions and going to a different scheme. And then just having to adapt to college life and football, with all of the meetings and how practices are run. It's going pretty good now, though."

Fortunately, Jackson has been able to lean on a pair of seasoned veterans at cornerback that are expected to have their names called next April in the NFL Draft – first-team All-ACCer Kendric Burney and Charles Brown.

"It's like having a coach out there on the field with you," Jackson said. "If I don't know something, I can look at them and they can tell me what I have to do, because both of them have played nickel during their careers and both have started since they were freshmen. So if I have any problem, I know I can look over to them, and then if something were to go wrong, I know they're behind me to cover for me."

The high school quarterback earned a handful of snaps at wide receiver last season, catching a shovel pass from T.J. Yates for a 12-yard gain against Miami, but he doesn't expect to revisit the offensive side of the ball this fall.

Jackson's personal goals for the season echo his humble approach to the game – to improve as the season goes along and to earn the trust and respect of his teammates and the coaching staff.


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