From Division I-AA to accompanying a locker next to Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees. My, what a long, strange trip it has already been for Vincent Jackson, the Chargers' rookie wide receiver.
Jackson was plucked from Northern Colorado in the second round by the Chargers. While skeptical about the level of competition and his rawness in running routes, the Chargers went with Jackson with an early pick which surprised some.
"He's got a ways to go because he's making a transition from a totally different level of competition," head coach Marty Schottenheimer admitted. "He was a far superior player to (those) he played against in college, and that won't be the case in the NFL."
But it's no shock when considering the lack of depth among the Chargers' wide outs.
Keenan McCardell is the most polished, but he's also dusting off a birth certificate which shows him at 35 years old.
Eric Parker paced the wide outs with 47 receptions last year, but he's undersized at 6-feet, 180 pounds. And he plays with such abandon, some worry about his health.
Kassim Osgood has shown bursts as a receiver but his true value is on special teams. Malcom Floyd was promising during training camp until an injury curtailed his campaign and ruined any chance he had of taking over a starting spot.
So enter Jackson, who's confident he can be productive in a league which doesn't feature Montana on its schedule.
"I belong here," the 6-4, 241-pound Jackson said. "There are some great players here and I am honored to be on the field with them. But I belong here too, and I'm just excited to work with them."
And unlike top pick Shawne Merriman, who skipped the rookie minicamp, Jackson was present and all ears.
"I'm being a sponge right now, learning as much as I can," Jackson said. "I believe I have a lot of tools, and if I can learn how to use them in better ways, I can really, really help this team."
Last year at Northern Colorado, Jackson caught 80 passes for 1,382 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaged 11.8 yards returning punts and 21.1 on kickoffs. Those numbers led to a Division I-AA All-America selection for the second straight year.
Overall, he set school records for receptions (170), yards (3,548) and touchdowns (37).
But wherever Jackson goes, he's reminded about his Division I-AA status. Not that it bothers him.
"I'm wearing the (Chargers) uniform like everyone else in this room," said Jackson, who also started two years on Northern Colorado's basketball team. "You don't even know what schools the other guys are from, so it won't matter to me. I think I can play here and that's what I'm focusing on now."
Jackson all blue and gold
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