Getting There

Ole Miss' senior Safety Damien Jackson didn't pull any punches. The Rebels will be "a lot better in 2011." Read his thoughts inside.

Last year, when hard-hitting Safety Damien Jackson came to Ole Miss from Gulf Coast CC, he proved quickly he was not shy about delivering "the hat" to opposing ballcarriers.

Several loud collisions in August practice drew immediate attention and there was little doubt he'd be in the safety rotation along with then-seniors Fon Ingram and Johnny Brown.

The 2010 campaign was a wash for all involved, but it was obvious to most observers that Jackson's star would rise after he adjusted to the rigors of Division I football.

Damien ended up as the Rebs' second-leading tackler with 68 stops, 4 behind the line of scrimmage, and four pass breakups.

Not bad for a player who started the year "winging it" with his assignments and adjusting to the speed of the game on the SEC level.

As the 2011 season looms, Jackson seems like a different man, physically and mentally, as he addresses the press recently.

"Working hard man, real hard," said Jackson. "I'm faster, bigger and stronger than I was last year. Last year, I was about 206 pounds. Now I'm around 214 pounds and I feel good.

"All my times are faster and I'm stronger."

The extra bulk is most noticeable in his upper body area - thicker chest and arms.

Being a physical player, one who hurt his shoulder in spring training after another brutal collision, Jackson needed to add some muscle and he has, but he says it's just a byproduct of hard work and wasn't necessarily a plan to do so.

"To be honest, I really just worked hard and depended on God," he said. "Now, I'm bigger, stronger and faster."

With the physical part taken care of by a strenuous offseason, Jackson is now focusing on his performance and effectiveness as it compares to last year.

"My freshman year in JUCO, I led the nation in interceptions and I need to get back to that type of play on this level," he explained. "It's not just about better coverage. It's about getting the ball.

"The quarterbacks on this level are so much better. The ball gets there quicker and you have to know where they are going with the ball and react to that or you will be too late to make a play on it. I'm smarter and faster this year, so I expect to get my hands on the ball a lot more. I'm more comfortable with everything now."

One thing that Damien has been consciously working on, with the urging of Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix, is being more of a leader.

"Coach Nix wants me to be a leader on a daily basis and on every play. Every play, every time," he noted. "He is right. I wasn't doing it every play and every day and I've had to work on that. It's been difficult being a vocal leader as a JUCO guy, even though I'm now a senior. I wanted to lead more last year, but being a new guy, I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. I didn't know if anyone would listen to me, so I was shy about it. I will not be that way this year. I'm more comfortable about that role now."

Damien Jackson
File Photo
Jackson is under new direction this year with Chris Vaughn now being the safeties coach and Keith Burns being the secondary mentor.

"Coach Burns doesn't sugarcoat anything and nothing is based on individual players. It's all about team with him," he continued. "It's all about communicating and team. He encourages me to talk all the time and tells me the rest will listen."

The Rebel defense will be young in 2011, but that doesn't seem to concern Damien in the least.

"Man, I'm in that locker room every day. I see what is going on and I'm not worried about people stepping up. I know we will be young with a lot of new guys, but those guys have been waiting to play and have prepared themselves for a bigger role," said Jackson. "We are going to show up. We have a lot of hungry guys. We are going to show up."

Even though the Rebel linebackers will be young by SEC standards, Jackson sees no issues there either in terms of how it will affect him or the defense as a whole.

"I don't worry about those guys at all. Joel (Kight) will be like me - a lot better the second time around. I don't know if anyone noticed, but Mike (Marry) started one game and led the team in tackles," Damien stated. "C.J. (Johnson) works hard, he doesn't take anything from anyone and he wants the job. And we have others who are competing hard. We'll be fine."

Jackson is also pleased with the look of the new secondary players who will be pushing him and the others who earned starting and playing time status in spring.

"This is the biggest group of secondary guys and freshmen I have ever seen. C.J. is 240. Donte (Moncrief) is 220. Senquez (Golson) fits right in and should be confident with the athletic ability he has. (Denzel) Nkemdiche is already a favorite of mine. Chief (Brown) and Cody (Prewitt) are around 200 pounds and are just true freshmen. They are all talking about getting bigger and I'm saying 'slow down, it will come.' And they are excited about being here and being on this team," Jackson said. "They want to know everything you know and some. They ask all kinds of questions. They want to play right now."

Jackson feels very confident in the direction of the Rebel defense.

"I like that nobody thinks we are going to be very good - all the preseason magazines and stuff," he smiled. "We are so much better than we were last year it's not even funny. I mean no disrespect to the guys last year - they taught me a lot, but it's not close.

"We will be better as a team, as a defense and as a secondary."

Those are bold words, but Damien Jackson is not hesitant about saying them emphatically and isn't bashful about trying to back them up.

"We'll show up, we'll show up," he closed with a big smile.

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