Ole Miss Secondary Coach Chris Rippon said repeatedly last year that then redshirt freshman Cornerback Terrell Jackson, paraphrasing and in capsule, had the physical tools he was looking for in an SEC corner, but Terrell had to learn the discipline of the position.
Terrell was, if you can believe this concerning a sport as physical as football, too aggressive. That aggression repeatedly put him out of position to carry out his assignments, assignments which were critical to the defense's success.
It all boiled down to trust.
Rippon could trust Jackson to be physical, hard-hitting, fast enough, quick enough, smart enough and tough enough, but he couldn't trust him to just carry out his assignments. Sounds simple, but it turned out to be something that took Terrell time to understand and figure out.
"Terrell is so aggressive that he gets himself out of position in the scheme of the defense," Rippon evaluated the Puckett native midway through the 2005 season.
And that trust was not achieved in the 2005 season. Terrell knew that and went about trying to change Rippon's perception of him in the 2006 spring session.
"I understood what Coach Rippon was telling me as far as being too aggressive, but it was a habit I found hard to break," Jackson explained. "I never played corner before I got here. I was always a safety and my job was to get to the ball as fast as possible. It's different at corner on this level. You have to be patient and carry out your assignments.
"There was something in me that instinctively made me want to get to the ball and that was hindering my performance at CB."
Terrell tried to focus on the little things of playing corner in spring and he kept repeating one word over and over on every rep.
"Patience," he explained. "At corner, you have to be consistent, persistent and patient. You have to know when to stay with your assignment and when to break away to chase the ball. I chased the ball way too much last year and got myself out of position to do my primary job."
It came down to denying his football instinacts he was taught at an early age and retooling his mind.
"At corner, you have to stay focused on what you are supposed to do and do it every snap. You can't go do your own thing," he noted. "It's that way at every position, but I think moreso at CB."
Terrell is a physical specimen - 5-10 and a chiseled 190 pounds with very little body fat. He has 4.5 40 speed and is getting better and better each offseason in strength and speed.
"All the cornerbacks ran in the 4.5s during the offseason and all of us graded well in strength. I think we can have four strong corners next year with Trumaine (McBride), Nate (Banks), Dustin (Mouzon) and me," said Terrell, a bright, personable sort who carries a big smile with him at all times. "We all just have to keep pushing and keep learning.
"Until you actually play the corner position on this level, you don't understand the challenge. It's hard, but that's what we all like. If it was easy, everyone could do it. As fast as the wide receivers on this level are and the way the rules are, you have to have a thick skin because you are going to give up completions. You have to instantly put that behind you and move on to the next play."
Rippon got an inkling that his young student was starting to get the hang of things the first day of spring training, when Terrell was 6-6 in man coverage drills. In other words, he had six opportunities in one-on-one coverage situations and denied a completion all six times.
"I knew from the first day of spring that Terrell had a different mindset," said Rippon. "A year ago, I wasn't sure how much he'd play here in his career. He changed that thinking in spring - he will play a lot. He has matured a lot in his approach to playing CB and he's always been very physical and gifted.
"For most of the spring, Terrell was the most improved player we had on defense. When all was said and done, he ended spring as the most improved DB, for sure."
Terrell is considered the heir apparent to rising senior McBride, who he plays behind, but he's not satisfied sitting back "waiting his turn."
"My goals are higher than to sit back and wait on T-Mac to graduate and take over for two years. Anybody can be beaten out. My goal is to beat him out and he knows that," Terrell said. "If I don't beat him out, hopefully I can gain the trust of the coaches to rest him and to be on all the special teams. I'm all about getting on the field as much as possible and competing for playing time.
"Hopefully, all four corners will stay healthy and we'll all get quality playing time. That would be ideal for all of us."
Terrell was pleased with his spring because he cast himself in a different light with his mentor, Rippon.
"I had a lot to prove in spring and I think I put myself in the picture. I just have to keep going with that mindset in the offseason and in fall camp," he said. "No matter how it turns out, though, I think Coach Rippon has a better opinion of my value to the team and I can build from there."
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