Memo to NFL: Whither Don Jackson? (Part II)

Part II - As of this moment, Don Jackson has yet to be signed by an NFL club as an un-drafted free agent. Looking at tape from this past season, the reasons why remain elusive. A MLB who has sideline to sideline coverage. A linebacker who can cover the tight end/running back out in space. A football player who is money against the run. A guy who will run through a wall. An athlete versatile and talented enough to play a different position. Memo to NFL general managers – the tape does not lie.

I pore over more of the season's tape, watching a linebacker who has great feet. Don Jackson could play outside linebacker in the pros—he clearly has the raw speed, the quickness and the coverage skills to man the outside spot.

Jackson actually started out at OLB with the Cougs before being switched to MLB late in his first fall camp.. It was a critical decision at the time—one that will have a tremendous impact upon the '03 season.

Don Jackson will hit Cardinal quarterbacks seven times this game. On a zone blitz, he meets the blocking back at full speed. The Stanford player is sent flying, coming to a halt five full yards behind the point of contact. Jackson doesn't look at the space suddenly created between him and the RB. He continues to fly towards the quarterback, who hurriedly throws it out of bounds to save a sack.

The only thing as impressive as watching Don Jackson hit people on this day -- watching the angles he takes..

He learned to take those paths under the tutelage of Leon Burtnett, the Cougs' highly respected linebackers coach who will enter his 39th year of coaching this season.

In the beginning, Jackson would simply run flat out, relying primarily on his speed. But in ‘03 he learned to make the proper read, to put himself in position to make the play time after time.

Jackson's technique certainly wasn't poor to begin with, but it too improved markedly this past year under Burtnett—particularly in the areas of balance and leverage.

Said Burtnett this past season of Donnie Jackson: ""He's become one of the top linebackers in the Pac-10. I haven't seen anyone I would trade for him."

Don Jackson is fighting off a block. The Beavers' future first-round pick, Steven Jackson, takes the handoff and approaches the line of scrimmage, rapidly gaining speed and power. Donnie J sheds his man and meets the 235-lb running back head-on. It is a tremendous collision.

It is one of those times a stadium reacts with a collective ‘Oh!'.. the suddenness and violence of the crowd's reaction evocative of a great stick in and of itself. Steven Jackson, so used to delivering punishment, is on the receiving end this time. The tailback goes down as if he's been hit with a brick. And perhaps, he has..

You've perhaps heard people say, ‘You can't coach speed'. Watching Don Jackson run flat out, watching him move in traffic, watching his NFL-level burst, it is clear he possesses attributes they haven't figured out how to teach yet.

But watching Jackson's instincts, watching the angles he chooses, watching him tackle with his face—one more thing becomes evident.. He learned a ton from Burtnett & defensive coordinator Robb Akey this year.

Don Jackson is abusing UCLA. On three successive plays, the Bruins try the run. Up the gut, the resulting contact with Jackson removes the tailback's helmet. 3-yards. The ballcarrier tries the right side. Jackson absolutely drills him in the backfield. 1-yard loss. The third time, the Bruins opt for stage left. 2-yards. Don Jackson, again, is in on the stop. Three carries. Three tackles. Four yards.

It is a day where Donnie J makes plays all over the field; left, right, middle, whatever you've got. His speed from the middle linebacker spot is something UCLA has no answer for.. He will finish the game with a then career-high 11 tackles.

Don Jackson (AP/Bose)

Donnie Jackson is one hell of a football player. Given the chance, he will be one hell of a football player in the pros. Consider this scenario.. one that will sound familiar to fans of current New Orleans Saint and former Cougar standout Steve Gleason.

Jackson could find his "in" as a backup, but also as a starting special-teams terror. Flying all over the field.. helping to win the field position battle that often decides games.. looking, on some of those special-teams tackles, to separate the man from the football.

And all the while, helping to make those around him better.

Don Jackson crashes into the middle of the Texas line. Forced to devote his full attention to the blitzing MLB, the Longhorns' center cannot stop Jackson's teammate Jeremey Williams, who stuffs the RB for a loss. Three and out.

About the same time Williams is making the tackle, Donnie J has gained the upper hand in his own battle. He plants the lineman flat on his back. The Texas center outweighs Don Jackson by 50-pounds.

His final collegiate game is a great performance in a season of great performances. He runs down gifted Texas QB Vince Young in the open field. He obliterates Texas QB Chance Mock on a blitz.

It is the sixth time this season Don Jackson has registered at least nine tackles in a game. It is the fourth straight game he has tallied double-digit tackles.

Lastly, the most compelling reason Jackson should play on Sundays is also the one most obvious..

Donnie Jackson just.. makes.. plays.

It remains to be seen whether some NFL general manager is smart enough to recognize it.

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