Buddy Jackson always seems to have a good spring. He pushed for time as a starting corner last spring, taking some reps with the first-team. That led to him playing in all 13 games in 2010. Prior to 2010, he played in a total of 14 career games.
Jackson worked his way into being the Panthers' top reserve at corner. In addition to getting a better understanding at corner, he was making a name for himself on special teams on the kick coverage units. A number of times, he made it down the field fast enough on punts, that he was right there for the tackle as the returnman caught the ball. He was instrumental in Pitt ranking seventh nationally in net punting (39.85 yards per punt).
Jackson has built upon his junior season where he contributed more. This spring, he's worked exclusively with the first-team at corner. That may change when Antwuan Reed returns from injury—whether that's this spring or in training camp—but Jackson understands that this is his last shot, and he plans on making the most of it.
"I'm just going to take advantage of this opportunity," Jackson said. "I'm fifth-year senior. This is my last year, my last go-around. I'm just going to be coachable and get better every day, and go out and compete."
Jackson has earned the praise of head coach Todd Graham on several occasions during spring ball. Graham talks often about building team speed. Jackson has that natural speed that Graham would expect out of any position on the field. While Graham likes that speed, he also wants to emphasize speed in the return game. Pitt averaged 20.4 yards a kickoff return last year—a number that is good enough to get by, but Graham wants more from the return game. He feels Jackson can give him that edge he's looking for, but he also seems to have a trust in Jackson returning the ball. Thursday, Graham had Jackson returning kicks.
"He kind of stuck out to me on the kickoff returns," Graham said. "Naturally, that's the thing we've got to develop over the summer. If there's anything that's missing; more speed. Buddy Jackson shows me speed. That's what we're needing more of. I think Buddy has a chance to be a special returner."
Jackson has never carried the ball dating back to high school. He has always played on the defensive side of the ball. The only time in his Pitt career that he touched the ball was when he recovered a botched punt return in the 2010 opener at Utah. That play setup a Pitt touchdown, leading to an early 7-0 lead. That play exemplified what Jackson can do on kick coverage units. Now, Graham believes Jackson can impact the return game.
"I think our return is as good as the returner," Graham added. "We've been fortunate to have some really good returners. I think the key is that you've got to have a guy who wants that ball, who wants to take it to the house. I think he has to have great speed. Naturally, you've got to have great vision, and be able to run through tackles and things like that. Buddy has that. Buddy's got some speed, and he's strong. He's strong through the hips. We'll see what happens with that."
Jackson has gradually worked himself into bigger roles. He has the faith from his new head coach. He has the natural ability, and understands this is his last year. He looks forward to the possibility of having an impact on the return game, regardless of what happens at corner.
"Once I get that ball, I'm seeing the endzone, and I'm trying to get there as fast as possible," Jackson said. "That's my mindset going into every kickoff. It's me, it's my show. Obviously, I have the blockers in front of me that do their job; the single blocks and the double blocks. Once I see that seam, I have the ball in my hands, just make something happen, just go."