Cornell Jackson: Ready, Aim, Fire

If something looked different on the Husky defense during the spring, you weren't just seeing things. If it seemed like the inside linebackers were being more aggressive than a season ago, you were probably right.

Thanks to Cornell Jackson, the new coach manning the inside linebackers, the defense has taken on a whole new outlook.

Even without senior Ben Mahdavi and junior Marquis Cooper this spring, who both sat out with injuries, the Huskies' group of inside backers made a lasting impression with their pursuit to the ball and ability to plug the gaps. Sophomore Joseph Lobendahn had as memorable of a spring as any other player in recent years, leading an assembly of young players who were asked not only to step up in the absence of the veterans, but to also change what they'd been taught in the past under former linebacker coach Tom Williams.

Williams left his post to become the co-defensive coordinator position at his alma mater, Stanford.

Jackson, who joined the Washington staff from the University of Houston on February 19th, ditched the reactionary approach that the Husky linebackers had taken. Under his more aggressive approach, several Huskies blossomed this spring.

Lobendahn amazed with his lateral quickness, his ability to read plays before they developed, and his hard-hits and tackling prowess. The stocky Polynesian stuffed the holes and made it nearly impossible for running backs to gain any positive yardage when the ball carrier came into his neighborhood. Yards after contact with Lobendahn were virtually nil.

Lobendahn played in 2001 as a true freshman but showed that he'll have to be utilized more in his second campaign, even when Mahdavi and Cooper return to full health.

Tyler Krambrink came back from an injury plagued sophomore season and played like the football player he was when he came out of Eatonville High School. With the cast off his hand, he played with reckless abandon and made plenty of plays that the coaches loved. Krambrink is the kind of guy that likes to hit (recall his forced fumble on Santana Moss versus Miami in 2000), and is the perfect fit for a coach like Jackson.

Matt Lingley, who'll be a redshirt sophomore next year, is another player that took advantage of the new style of play. Lingley's one of the more intense players on the team, and he was able to unleash his aggression all spring by getting to the quarterback. Just when some people were starting to wonder when of if Lingley would contribute, he made a lasting impression with an all-out, gutsy performance this spring.

Tim Galloway, not the fastest of the linebackers, appeared to be more comfortable in this scheme. Galloway's a big guy and a solid tackler, and he showed enough this spring to confuse the coaches even more by deepening the depth at the position.

"I loved what I saw from the young guys out there," said Jackson after spring football practices had completed. "With Mahdavi and Cooper out of the lineup they got a chance to show what they had, and each and every one of them took advantage of the opportunity."

Sometimes injuries can be a blessing in disguise, giving reserve players who would have seen little playing time the rare opportunity to showcase their talent. That, Jackson feels, was the case this spring with the team's starters on the mend.

"I can't wait to see Ben (Mahdavi) and Marquis (Cooper) in the rotation," he said. "But I must tell you that it's been a joy to watch how the younger players have played this spring."

With a lot of bodies battling it out for playing time at the two inside linebacking positions, Jackson hopes that the competition will create nothing but improvement amongst the group. It will be imperative for the defense to find success in 2002. Last year, the quicker teams like Miami, UCLA, and Texas left the coaching staff scrambling for answers as the Huskies were run over by the opposition.

Many of the answers to those ongoing problems lie in upgrading the play of the inside linebackers.

And the Huskies took a step in the right direction by finding Jackson, who has a good feel for what it takes to compete at the Pacific-10 level. He had success at Arizona State in his time in Tempe.

"The competition in the league that the University of Houston is in is great, I don't want to take anything away from it," said Jackson. "But you can tell there's another level when you come to a conference like the Pac-10."

For now, the Husky coach feels happy in his new home, and is getting increasingly comfortable with the new surroundings on a daily basis. A clean bill of health for his starting inside linebackers would make life a little easier, but he's not complaining.

"We've got a great group of guys here, and it's going to be fun going into battle with them."

When they do, you can bet his group of guys be more aggressive, in turn making more plays than a season ago. Jackson wouldn't have it any other way. Top Stories